The Central Student Government meeting Tuesday night revisited the recent passing of #UMDivest and the prospect of white supremacist Richard Spencer speaking on the University of Michigan’s campus.
Post #UMDivest debate
The meeting began with a guest presentation from history professor Victor Lieberman, who had not been allowed to speak at the divestment resolution vote after objections arose from CSG representatives. These objections stemmed from a concern that Lieberman, who has taught on the Arab-Israeli conflict, would cause a power imbalance during the vote by expressing his anti-divestment views.
While speaking to the assembly, Lieberman took a historical approach to examining the Arab-Israeli conflict, citing examples of human rights violations by other countries, which he believes to be greater than the alleged violations by Israel.
“Because there’s a growing American political lobby against Israel, but not against these other countries … that’s why,” he said, rhetorically asking why other countries are not facing a similar resolution.
Business junior Lauren Ward, a CSG representative, then questioned the purpose of Lieberman’s visit to the CSG chambers.
“Why come back and throw all of these clearly emotionally appealing persuasive arguments in student’s faces when that’s not at all the point of the resolution?” she asked.
Lieberman fired back: “You can’t judge international events on the base of your emotions … it requires an intellectual and historical analysis,” Lieberman responded.
A group of CSG representatives including LSA junior Ali Rosenblatt and Information senior Elle Shwer then took the podium to speak to their fellow student government members about the lack of respect they felt loomed over the divestment resolution vote two weeks ago.
“This assembly emboldened the BDS movement,” Andrew Watkins, a Public Policy senior, said. SAFE previously stated #UMDivest is not associated with the BDS movement. “They did not say a word to denounce the movement, and to me, that silence rings louder than anything else they said,” he said.
Watkins also brought up the swastika in the MLB bathroom the following day.
CSG Social Work Rep. Brittney Williams took issue with Lieberman’s appearance, calling his speech “scare-tactics cloaked as intellectual discourse.”
“I believe that he was here to attempt to put us back in our place,” she said. “He wanted to be here in person to rub our noses in what he believed to be the wrong decision.”
CSG Vice President Nadine Jawad, a Public Policy senior, and her support of #UMDivest during the resolution night were also called into question — one representative said she leveraged her status as vice president, creating a power imbalance.
Jawad, however, emphasized she spoke during community concerns and not executive communications. She also added former executive members have been much more vocal about being anti-divestment and the politics surrounding the issue, including a past vice president who later became CSG president four years ago.
“Are you all clear that I spoke during community concerns as opposed to during executive communications to try and share my narrative (despite) being an executive?” she said. “And though I know that it wasn’t a way to take away what I am as the vice president, it wasn’t my intent to abuse my power. Are you aware that other (executive) members including the president and former vice president of student body vocally supported a stance on the actual politics and not on the resolution?”
The resolution has been supported by many student organizations and social justice groups on campus including the School of Social Work Student Union and Black Student Union.
Richard Spencer resolution
Members of the coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight For Equality By Any Means Necessary also asked CSG to pass a resolution to condemn white nationalist Richard Spencer’s possible visit to campus. The University administration said they are in talks about providing a space for Spencer, if safety is not compromised.
Kate Stenvig, an organizer for BAMN, drew connections both to the violence that unfolded in Charlottesville, Va., in August and to Michigan State University’s decision to not allow him to speak on campus.
“There are a lot of campuses that have denied him … and that doesn’t have anything to do with the First Amendment,” she said. “Everywhere Richard Spencer has gone has been accompanied with physical violence.”
CSG President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior, expressed the need to amend the resolution as it stands. She said the resolution should communicate that it is the threat to physical safety, not the content of Spencer’s speech, that is of concern.
“It’s pretty likely that University will go to court regardless,” she said. “If we pass a resolution that says that we reject him speaking here because of the content of his speech, they will use that to win the lawsuit. The resolution should focus on the fact that Spencer and his followers bring about violence.”
The resolution will be passed to the Resolutions Committee for further review.
Updated to clarify a quote.