Faculty pen letter to Schlissel about Diag chalking incident

Sunday, April 17, 2016 - 5:27pm

Earlier this week, a letter condemning the anti-Islamic chalkings on the Diag and applauding the University’s response to it was sent to University President Mark Schlissel, University Provost Martha Pollack and LSA Dean Andrew Martin.

The letter received signatures from 480 faculty members within two days of it being written by professors in the American Culture department.

One of the collaborators on the letter, Prof. Evelyn Alsultany, Director of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program, said the letter quickly gained traction.

“The letter was first sent to History department, and then it was sent to the American Culture department, and then professors kept sending it along to different friends and their other colleagues.” Alsultany said. “Within 48 hours there were nearly 500 signatures.”

Faculty from both undergraduate and graduate units, including LSA, Medical School, Law School, Engineering, Art & Design and Public Policy, all signed the letter in a display of solidarity with Muslim students.  

The letter emphasizes the faculty’s support for the response to the chalkings a week ago, and explicitly opposes the nature of the messages written on the Diag.

“We stand with our friends/students/colleagues and with the Central Student Government (CSG), Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), and Senate Assembly in condemning the recent anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-activist chalkings on the Diag,” the letter read.“Whatever the political motivations of those engaged in such acts, their expressions of disrespect for members of our community can have nothing but a chilling effect on the social and intellectual life of this campus.”

The letter also emphasizes a need for community activism to oppose Islamophobia on campus.

“We call on all members of the community — students, faculty, staff, and administrators — to join in support of the right of everyone, as the CSG put it, ‘to be free from discrimination, persecution, and to be treated with dignity and respect by the University and the campus community,” the letter states.

President Schlissel responded to the faculty letter Friday in an e-mail to all faculty signatories that stressed the University’s commitment to the Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern and North African students and underscored how the administration has shown that committment.

“We have also worked to communicate our values of respect, civility and equality.” Schlissel’s response said. “The President’s speech at winter 2015 commencement addressed the challenging balance between constitutional rights and a sense of safety, specifically referencing Islamophobia. Remarks at the U-M Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium in January discussed the hostility and hateful messages the students had experienced in the context of our work to do better as a University.”

Schlissel, and the University’s overall response to the incident, has met with some criticism from students.

LSA junior Tina Al-khersan, one of a group of students who helped clean off the initial chalk messages on the Diag, said she thought an increasing prevalence of Islamophobia on campus necessitates a stronger University response to bias incidents.

"Every year, Islamophobic incidences have happened, and I think it's time for more than an e-mail, especially because the Islamophobic sentiment is also increasing nationally.” Al-khersan said. “That's why the Islamophobia Working Group was formed, which is a group of students, staff and faculty who strategize on how to create a safe and inclusive campus environment for Arab, Muslim and MENA students and those who are impacted by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments (i.e. Sikh, etc.) I think groups like these and the University's administration must work together to ensure that campus is an inclusive space.”