The drumbeat emanating from the top of the Michigan Union tower stopped long ago.
The Michigan flag once again flies from the pole atop the tower.
And the tower itself sits empty.
But one year after the Students of Color Coalition seized Michigamua”s tower space in the Union, not much else seems to be different.
The 37-day occupation resulted in an “incomplete victory,” said graduate student Diego Bernal, an SCC member who helped storm the tower last February.
“The main thing that”s changed is that the tower is empty,” Bernal said. The senior honor society Michigamua, which had been housed in the seventh-floor tower space, was relocated with the help of the University to 109 E. Madison St. last fall. Two other societies, Vulcan and Phoenix, also left their tower spaces and now lease space at the East Madison location.
The SCC stormed the tower in protest of the secret societies, specifically targeting Michigamua and the “racist elements of their organization,” Bernal said. The SCC claimed the society, although not necessarily the members themselves, historically used Native American artifacts and imagery. “We hesitated from calling individual people racist,” Bernal said.
The SCC vacated the tower space March 13 after the artifacts were removed and the University administration agreed to form a panel to study issues raised by the SCC.
Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper said the administration was able to hear students” concerns during the occupation and is not yet finished dealing with the Michigamua issue.
“The way we get better as an institution is to listen,” Harper said, adding that administrators did just that during the tower occupation.
“This does not mean that we listen and we do. This means we listen and we consider,” she said. “We are always in the process of getting better.”
One lingering issue for the SCC is that Michigamua has not changed its name. The name was modified to “Michigamua: New Traditions for a New Millennium,” but SCC members said that did not accomplish their goals. Bernal added that Michigamua”s current class has the power to change the group”s name once again.
“They ignored legitimate pleas” from local members of the Native American community and resisted adopting a different name, Bernal said. “I think that”s blatantly disrespectful to a group that”s asked them in a variety of ways. If it”s not racist, it”s racially insensitive.”
Although the SCC received support from some University departments, Bernal said, the administration has not been helpful. “In general, they were supposed to make it hard for us,” Bernal said.
Bernal said prominent faculty members who claim they are committed to minority issues “disappeared” during the tower occupation.
“What opportunity are they looking for? Is it research? Is it more luncheons? Is it more speeches to introduce keynote speakers? Or is it something tangible?” Bernal asked.
Pledges by administrators to consider changes have not produced results, Bernal said.
“The space allocation panel they created was a joke,” Bernal said. Commissioned by Harper after the occupation, the panel was created to decide the fate of the space in the tower.
The three-person panel recommended in July that the groups should vacate the tower. The panel also suggested the University enforce uniform standards in regard to allocating meeting space for student organizations.
“That”s what we have implemented,” Harper said, adding that students and staff are working on the details of that policy.
One of SCC”s complaints was that Michigamua had permanent, free use of the space in the tower because the group helped fund construction of the Union.
As for Michigamua itself, everything remains the same, “other than the fact that our meeting space was different,” said University alum Rishi Moudgil, a member of last year”s Michigamua class.
“We”re still trying to serve U of M as we have,” Moudgil said.
There simply was no need to radically change the society, he said.
Moudgil said Michigamua had already dissociated itself from the practices the SCC found offensive long before the tower occupation drew attention to the society.