If Michigamua has reformed its ways, there’s no way any of us would know. So when three University seniors were forced out of their student organizations after being exposed as members of the semi-secret society, there was little outcry. After all, no progressive student group wants to be linked to a shadowy clique of elites that has been ostracized in recent years for its insensitive use of Native American rituals, artifacts and names.

Jessica Boullion

The three students, Brian Hull, Sam Woll and Neal Pancholi, claim they joined Michigamua in the hopes of reforming the society.
“Anyone who knows me and my passionate commitment to working for social justice knows that I would never be a part of organization that would betray these principles,” Woll said to the Daily a week ago (Michigamua members ousted from group, 01/25/2006). And if it is possible to reform Michigamua, there is probably no better candidate to take on the challenge than Woll, whose nearly five years at the University have been filled with a laundry list of worthy and progressive causes to which she has devoted herself fully, from affirmative action to the campaign against Coca-Cola.

But in a viewpoint in the Daily last week (Michigamua speaks out, 01/26/2006), Michigamua charged that “any claims that Michigamua has a history of ‘racism’ are fundamentally misguided,” revealing the society’s stubborn refusal to fully acknowledge its racist past. The secrecy surrounding Michigamua has proven to be an insurmountable obstacle as well, making it nearly impossible to hold the society accountable.

In short, Michigamua is not a worthy cause for would-be reformists. It is beyond redemption. Students Supporting Affirmative Action, the South Asian Awareness Network and the Coalition to Cut the Contract with Coca-Cola were right to deny membership to anyone in their ranks found to be affiliated with Michigamua.

Still, it’s no great feat to drown a sinking ship. By simply renouncing ties with some of their most talented and dedicated (if misguided) members, these student groups largely miss the point: Michigamua is an outdated club whose backward practices – remaining exclusively male until the class of 2000, for instance – long ago sealed its own demise.

Those who believe Michigamua is the only organization on this campus with a culture of racism or exclusion it has failed to acknowledge or address are sorely mistaken. Indeed, racism is no less sinister when it manifests itself in politically correct and savvy student groups. The Greek System, for example, is essentially segregated by race, and The Michigan Daily just barely escaped another bout of boycotts last semester. Yet there are few who would advocate purging Daily news reporter Jacqueline Howard from her post as head of the University chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and expect to be taken seriously.

Michigamua is, in fact, little more than a red herring, and student groups interested in social change will have to look beyond scapegoating their wayward members to demonstrate
their commitment to progress.

The greatest threat to Michigamua, and all other organizations whose institutions and culture allow racism to thrive on this campus, will not arise from student groups deflecting collective responsibility onto a few of their members. The greatest threat to Michigamua will come when the most dedicated members of student groups of all stripes come together to form a new organization dedicated to a progressive future. This campus think tank, this “brain trust” of sorts, is the only answer to Michigamua, and its creation will seal the fate of student groups who fail to reform their narrow-minded ways.

The Roosevelt Institution was created less than a year ago by students at Stanford University. The first student think tank, the Roosevelt Institution is designed to organize student activists and intellectuals into an effective lobbying voice in national politics.

The ethos of the new think tank can be found on its website, rooseveltinstitution.org: “We’re young and ideologically unburdened, we understand the changing nature of society, and we know we have a bigger stake than anybody else – we’re talking about what sort of a world we want to inherit. Other think tanks have Nobel laureates and former secretaries of state. We have future Nobel laureates and secretaries of state in training.” The University’s chapter is just getting started this month, and the Institution could not have arrived on our campus at a better time.

Eradicating racism, sexism and other symptoms of the small mind from this campus is as daunting as it is important, and it demands more of us than we are currently giving. If student groups on this campus are truly interested in change, they will put their commitment where their mouths are. They will dare to generate the new and big ideas that make the University great.

Gay can be reached at maracl@umich.edu.

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