During Central Student Government’s Tuesday meeting, a resolution to support the creation of a Middle Eastern and North African racial category on University of Michigan documents passed unanimously.
LSA Rep. Devin Jones, a junior and a member of SAFE — one of the four authors who identifies as ME/NA — brought up the discrepancies in how he was classified in the U.S. census and other demographic surveys. Though he is Palestinian and the other authors of the proposal were Lebanese, Jones said they were all technically classified as “white.” Jones argued the demographic surveys did not take Middle Eastern heritage into account.
“In 1944, all Arabs were marked as white in the United States because whiteness was a prerequisite for citizenship,” Jones said. “That changed in 1952, but the status for Arab Americans and others who are Middle East and North African identifying … to this day, they are still regarded as white. So basically, we don’t have a count on how many Arab Americans or Middle East Americans exist in the United States, we don’t know how many exist in the University of Michigan.”
Public Policy junior Nadine Jawad, who serves as senior policy adviser to CSG, stressed the importance of having a record of how many ME/NA students there are on campus to allocate resources toward that community and reach out to members.
“When something goes on on campus, if we want to connect with Arab American students, Middle Eastern students, or Middle Eastern and North African students and people identifying in this category, it’s very hard to reach out to a population of people that you don’t even know where they are, how many exist on this campus,” Jawad said. “If we want to advocate for resources for our community, it’s very hard to because we don’t have a breakdown of how many students there are so it makes it hard to allocate resources for this demographic of people on campus.”
LSA junior Jad Elharake said with all of the talk of representation and outreach from students and the University of Michigan administration, it is important to have an idea of how many ME/NA students are on campus.
“This will be our third year planning a graduation for ME/NA students, and when we’re trying to reach out to students and graduates and seniors, there isn’t a Listserv we can go to, so we have to go by student organizations or friends,” Elharake said. “Just to show you how dysfunctional it is … I know we talk about access and outreach and representation amongst FSAs (faculty, staff and administrators), but we don’t even know how many of us are on campus.”
Jones said the authors hoped to see student government support for the resolution before approaching administration and sending the resolution to University President Mark Schlissel.
“All you’re being asked to do is show support for this — you’re not asked to actually create the box, you’re not asked the logistics of the box,” he said. “It’s basically going to be in the racial category, when applying to anything or under distinctions, so there would be a separate ethnic category where you could identify distinctions. This is primarily a racial category we are looking to implement, and you would just be supporting the idea.”
The resolution passed unanimously among the assembly.
Engineering freshman Mario Galindez, a member of the Engineering Student Government, proposed another resolution during the meeting to support an academic holiday on Election Day.
He referred to the long lines students had to wait in on Election Day, and specified these as being a potential factor in discouraging students to vote.
The resolution proposed an academic holiday for Election Day 2020 and all even-numbered years after that. The proposal was passed on to the resolution committee for further review.