On Nov. 18, a group of faith leaders on campus issued a statement contending that a T-shirt of a Victors for Michigan attendee which read “Victors for Moral Antigayism” is not a sentiment shared by all faith communities. “The Victors event was about showcasing ‘the Leaders and the Best’ that this campus offers,” the authors wrote. “The presence of an anti-gay message had no place at the event or on this campus.”
The incident got me thinking about the identity of the Victors for Michigan campaign. Who can call themselves victors? Who — and what — are we fundraising for?
I went back to watch the campaign promotional videos in my attempt to answer these questions. The videos are what you’d expect from fundraising campaign marketing materials —inspiring and convincing. The videos highlight the accomplishments and opportunities that the University offers: cutting-edge research, projects in developing countries, a vast selection of study abroad programs and, last but not least, phenomenal students. I felt proud.
However, after my initial sense of pride subsided, I felt angry. The videos only told half the story of the University — one that I don’t completely relate to.
What was left unspoken infuriated me. The University experience is not all positive. The videos weren’t talking about those who struggle with mental health on a daily basis, members of the LGBTQ community who still feel unsafe on campus, students who have to work 40 hours a week just to make ends meet or sexual assault survivors whose justice the University has not fought for. The videos do not discuss how we often have to make the choice between coursework and our wellbeing, and that our society pressures us to choose the former over the latter. The videos do not explain why a student with a disability recently informed me that he felt like the University does not adequately address his needs and only goes as far as official policies require of it.
In sum, the campaign’s videos made me feel like I don’t count.
It’s truly a privilege to be here at the University where I’ve come to embrace our legacy and our public mission. But the University is not adequately representing all its students and it can do better.
Let me be clear: I am not adversarial to the University or the Victors for Michigan campaign. What I am against is false advertising, elitism and injustice. I’m against the University broadcasting that it has a public mission without the public mission being embedded in the campaign. Yes, capital campaigns are meant to raise money. But beyond the $4 billion target, capital campaigns should be an opportunity for disruptive innovation, for change and for all of us to feel like we’re together and working towards a brighter future. The campaign needs to tackle those egregious cracks in our system more than the cracks in our buildings.
What about a different kind of video? One that says:
“Yes, we struggle with social justice. Yes, we struggle with LGBTQ inclusion. Yes, we are aware of students who struggle with mental health and disability issues. We do care about these people and we really need your contribution to create new programs that address these issues.
”Look, these may not sound great, but all higher-education institutions face the same challenges we do. We want to truly embody the slogan ‘Victors for Michigan’ and make sure that we represent all our students, so we’re highlighting these issues today.
”We need your help more than ever to change the system.”
Now, this video would be one hell of a fundraising tool. The big question remains: Is the University willing to take a risk and spread this message? In the spirit of our public mission, I sure hope the answer is yes.
Pete Wangwongwiroj is an Engineering graduate student.