LSA sophomore DeAndree Watson, a current MSA representative, says he has big plans to stir up student advocacy on campus.
In January 2010, Watson drafted a resolution to create a Diversity Affairs Select Committee within the Michigan Student Assembly. The resolution passed by a margin of 26-8 and created a committee with the goal of addressing issues of discrimination on campus.
Watson said he formed the committee because no other MSA committee resolves issues of discrimination.
Watson said he was inspired to start the select committee after talking with members of the Black Student Union and discovering that students in the group did not feel welcome on campus, outside their interactions within the group itself.
“What shocked me is that they don’t feel welcome here,” Watson said. “(The University) is about competition and survival of the fittest type, and it’ll tear you down if you’re not ready for it.”
With the help of the committee, Watson said he plans to make the campus climate more “welcoming.”
“Students need to feel comfortable here in order to thrive and be successful,” Watson said.
According to Watson, the Diversity Affairs Select committee will solve problems in a multifaceted way, by recognizing the various identities of every student at the University and working with different groups.
“The committee demands collaboration from all other issues across the campus,” he said. “It includes the point of view of every committee on campus.”
Watson said there was tension within the assembly during the voting process. Those who voted against the committee, according to Watson, were worried that the assembly would be spread too thin among its various committees.
“They didn’t want to expand the bureaucracy of the Michigan Student Assembly,” he said.
As an MSA representative, Watson said it is his job to stimulate advocacy on campus and to help students who are fighting for rights.
The Diversity Affairs Select Committee, according to Watson, serves the needs of students more than other MSA committees because the committee aims to advocate for students.
“We are going to be the ones going to the Division of Student Affairs to make sure the proposed changes will happen,” Watson said. “This committee is purely for solving a problem, not to entertain students.”
One of Watson’s goals for the committee is to change the process for reporting biased incidents within University residence halls. Biased incidents include acts that target a student’s race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Watson said most students do not know how to report biased incidents, and if they decide to report a crime, it is a convoluted process with no definite procedure.
“There needs to be something in writing that explains what the end result will be and the steps to getting there,” Watson said.
Currently, students can report biased incidents on campus by going in person to various departments, including the Dean of Students Office, Department of Public Safety, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Spectrum Center, Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, Services for Students with Disabilities, among other locations.
The Diversity Affairs Select Committee plans to meet with Royster Harper, vice president of Student Affairs, to discuss changes to the protocol used to address incidents of discrimination in residence halls.
Unlike other universities, Watson said the University does not have concise language that spells out how to deal with acts of discrimination. He cited the University of California at San Diego, which has clear regulations and consequences regarding punishment for perpetrators of biased crimes on its campus.
Watson gave an example where a noose was hung on a student’s door in a residence hall. He said the perpetrators admitted to the crime because of pressure from students on the California campus.
“They came forward because there was so much animosity, so much energy on the campus, compelling them to come forward and apologize that they did it,” Watson said. “The culture is there because of the policies in place.”
Currently, the University of California at San Diego has a written statement that says a student may be expelled for acting out in a bias incident.
Watson said the newly-proposed Students 4 Progressive Governance student constitution will help to bolster the committee’s efforts.
The current constitution contains wording that labels students by race, gender and sexual orientation when referring to acts of discrimination and student rights. The revised constitution will not contain wording that specifies students’ identities.
“(The language) allows the constitution to be breath and be flexible in the future,” Watson said.
Graduate student Elson Liu, a former MSA Rackham representative who used to be a member of the Diversity Affairs Select Committee, said he became involved in the committee because issues of diversity are relevant to students on campus as well as all universities across the nation.
“I believe diversity is an asset to a campus community,” Liu said. “Universities have a compelling interest in diversity.”