The protest lasted barely ten minutes, but the ultimatum was clear: seven demands, seven days.
Coinciding with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, students from the Black Student Union protested the University’s response to racial issues on campus.
As the first wave of students and staff filed out from social activist Henry Belafonte’s keynote address at Hill Auditorium, a line of about 15 students from BSU were waiting on the steps, signs in hand.
Engineering junior Robert Greenfield, BSU treasurer, stepped onto a lamppost platform and addressed a crowd of about 30 people.
“What brings me here today is not that social action is done. What brings me here today is the unfinished business of the first three fights of the Black action movement,” Greenfield said.
LSA senior Erick Gavin, a member of the BSU, took Greenfield’s place on the lamppost and laid out a concrete list of demands, some of which were addressed late last week by the University.
Business senior Shayla Scales, who spoke last, demanded a response from the University’s administration.
“We have heard the University use the phrase ‘We are listening’ since 1970, and I am tired of waiting for a response. We are tired of waiting for a response,” Scales said. “We allow the University seven days to end negotiations and to come to conclusions on our seven demands.”
Scales ended her speech by promising “physical actions” against the University and increasing activism if negotiations are not concluded within the given timeframe.
In a letter delivered to University President Mary Sue Coleman and the University’s Board of Regents late Monday, the BSU clarified that if the University does not comply with their seven demands, they will be forced to increase “physical activism for social progress” on campus.
The deadline given at the protest is Jan. 27 by 5 p.m.
The protest comes on the heels of the University’s newly-announced plan of action to combat diversity issues on campus. An e-mail Thursday night from Provost Martha Pollack outlined new initiatives including improvements to the Trotter Multicultural Center and the creation of a new leadership position to help combat low minority recruitment.
“This commitment is longstanding and fundamental to who we are as an institution,” Pollack wrote. “And yet, there are times we have not lived up to our highest aspirations.”
However, LSA senior Tyrell Collier, BSU speaker, said Thursday that the BSU was not consulted before the announcement, even though it explicitly acknowledged the #BBUM campaign. The movement, which was led by the BSU in November, received national media attention and shed light on the experiences of many Black students on campus.
The list of demands was subsequently tweeted under the trending BBUM hashtag:
- We demand the University to give us an equal opportunity to implement change. The change that complete restoration of the BSU’s purchasing power through an increased budget would obtain.
- We demand the University available housing on central campus for those of lower socioeconomic status at a rate that students can afford to be a part of university life, and not just on the periphery.
- We demand for an opportunity to congregate and share our experiences in a new Trotter (Multicultural Center) located on central campus.
- We demand an opportunity to educate and be educated about America’s historical treatment and marginalization of colored groups through race and ethnicity requirements throughout all schools and colleges within the University.
- We demand the equal opportunity to succeed with emergency scholarships for black students in need of financial support, without the mental anxiety of not being able to focus on and afford the University’s academic life.
- We demand for increased exposure of all documents within the Bentley (Historical) Library. There should be transparency about the University and its past dealings with race relations.
- We demand an increase in black representation on this campus equal to 10 percent.
“The University should invest in our well-being because we invest in it,” Scales said. “Because after all the struggle of being brown and Black on this campus, in the end, we still bleed the same colors as everyone else — maize and blue.”
The BSU protestors quickly dispersed after Scales concluded her remarks. The majority of attendees from Belafonte’s lecture left the building after the protest was over.
LSA sophomore Alexis Farmer, a student who observed the protest, was skeptical that action will be taken in seven days.
“Realistically, some of the demands were stated in the first movement,” Farmer said. “That was over 30 years ago and we are still having the same problems.”
LSA senior Ravon Alford, another student who observed the protest, was more optimistic.
“I think it is possible because if BBUM can receive national recognition within a few hours in one day. Seven days is enough time for this video that they made to just take the media by storm and for it to be taken to the administrators of this university,” Alford said. “We need more diversity on campus to make this an enjoyable experience for all students of all racial backgrounds.”
A second protest by BAMN, an advocacy group that protest in favor of affirmative action policies, began shortly after the BBUM rally. The organization is part of a national group with chapters on college campuses and the country.
Students held signs and chanted down South State Street, up North University Avenue and through to the Hill neighborhood. The event came after Friday’s protest in the Diag, which called for similar actions.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action in October. The case questions the legality of Proposal 2, a 2006 amendment to the Michigan State Constitution that banned the consideration of race in the college admissions process, among other factors.