Students sit-in at the Michigan Union to protest campus climate following racist emails

Students4Justice hold a sit-in in the Michigan Union on Thursday.

Students4Justice hold a sit-in in the Michigan Union on Thursday. Buy this photo
Jeremy Mitnick/Daily

 

Thursday, February 9, 2017 - 9:00pm

More like this

Students4Justice held a sit-in at the Michigan Union as a response to the emails sent to University of Michigan engineering and computer science undergraduate students and the defilement of a prayer rug in the reflection room in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

The event began Thursday with a march of approximately 60 students from the Diag to the Union, which they planned to occupy until it closed at 2 a.m. The crowd grew in size as the marchers chanted and progressed to the Union.

Chants included slogans such as: “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” and “No alt-right, no KKK, no fascist USA.” 

Once at its destination, the group wound its way through the building before spreading out to occupy the study rooms on the first floor. Over 150 students and community members took part in the sit-in. Fliers were circulated that had a condensed version of the letter of demands that Students4Justice wrote in response to the racist fliers that first appeared last fall.

Members of the organization said they wanted their voices to be heard. LSA junior Victoria Johnson, a leader of Students4Justice, said she does not believe the University’s response has been sufficient.

“We feel like the administration hasn’t done enough,” she said. “It has been silent. They’re not showing up and giving the support that is needed to the students that have been attacked. We’re going to sit in the union until they meet our demands.”

Participants of the sit-in worked on homework assignments, chatted with those around them and decorated the Union with posters and various flags. LSA freshman Maria Tout said she noticed a feeling of inclusiveness even though the sit-in was a protest.

“It’s a loving and inclusive environment,” she said. “You wouldn’t think a protest to be like that, but it’s comforting that there’s a lot of people here, and that there are so many different people coming out to support this cause. Everybody has a different background, everybody is from a different place, but we are all American.”

Students4Justice is a relatively new student group that aims to expose inequities on campus. The organizers encouraged attendees to bring homework, water, food, prayer rugs and posters to demonstrate their resolve.

In addition to acting in response to the recent bias incidents on campus, Students4Justice also asked for their voices to be heard by the administration. A driving force behind the event was that the organizers felt a lack of action from the administration.

Public Health student Vikrant Garg, a core member of Students4Justice, said he wants the administration to take a stand and do something.

“We need (University President Mark) Schlissel to actually be present,” Garg said. “We need him to make actionable change if he wants us to feel welcome on this campus.”

LSA senior David Schafer, president of Central Student Government, said he found the solidarity of the students to be important in facilitating change.

“I just think this event is powerful and important,” Schafer said. “It’s my hope that real and lasting tangible change comes from this. I know those are buzzwords and buzz-phrases, but it’s the only way anything has ever been done at this school. It stems from the bottom up; it’s students who are tired of being tired and having their voices heard, ensuring a more just and equitable community is made possible.”

The protest drew a diverse group of students as the sit-in carried on through the night. The students in attendance were there for various reasons, including political and religious ones.

LSA freshman Tiana Brandon said she marched because she felt her identity was threatened by the current atmosphere on campus.

“It’s always important to fight for what is right,” Brandon said. “In this particular situation it applies to me. As a woman of color, I have to fight for my life, and I don’t think people realize the seriousness of the matter. If I can’t feel safe on campus, how am I — a minority student — being welcomed here? Schlissel’s approach to this is not okay.”