Op-ed: On race relations: A joint statement by UM and MSU graduate government presidents on race relations, violence and brutality

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 - 6:54pm

Dear Constituents,

Once again, race and racial interactions are front and center in our national conversation. Our collective thoughts and prayers are with the families, loved ones, friends and community of those lost during the acts of violence perpetrated in the week that our nation celebrated its independence. Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Sgt. Michael Smith, Senior Corporal Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael Krol, Officer Patrick Zamarripa and Officer Brent Thompson represent a growing number of Americans who have fallen as a result of indiscriminate violence and brutality.

Death is neither Black nor white. Every life is valuable, and each loss of life is a tragedy. It is evident, now more than ever, that our country must continue meaningful and relevant dialogues on race relations, hate, fear and healing.

As student leaders we hear you, we are grieving with you, and we too are struggling to make sense of it all. There is nothing that could ever be said to rationalize the lack of compassion and aggression that has plagued our country so much this summer and for decades. Unfortunately, these tensions are not new, and they can even pervade our campuses. They stem from deep-seated frustrations and learned resentments, creating a false sense of “us and them.” Let us not allow these ideas to consume and divide us. Let us continue to challenge our perceptions, our peers, our professors, our administrators and our public servants at all levels.

How do we overcome?  Is it possible for us to ever reach race equilibrium?  

As students, the exchange of perspectives, ideas and understanding is critical in moving us forward. We need to cultivate a campus culture that is safe and inclusive of all students; one that encourages honest, uninhibited dialogue on racial issues. We must bring these conversations into spaces that students occupy, whether they be our labs, departments, classrooms and beyond. It is necessary to develop avenues to engage the ally and majority community to support marginalized groups. Don’t be afraid to participate in these discussions. Talk to one another. Inaction is not an option.

Across our campuses, we must be more resolved in our demand for unity, justice and structural equality in all phases of our education. Request racial literacy training. Enroll in culture and race theory courses. Explore racial and ethnic intolerance subjects.  

We are grateful for the opportunity to serve our graduate and professional student colleagues at each of our institutions, no matter how difficult the challenge. As presidents of the graduate governments at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, though competitors in the Big Ten, we stand united in our resolve to empower you to challenge the status quo, confront all forms of inequity and create the best campus environments for graduate education in the state of Michigan.

Dee Jordan is the President of the Michigan State University Council of Graduate Students. Chukwuka Mbagwu is the President of the Rackham Student Government.