Students of Color Fight Racism at Univ. of Mich. with Month-Long Occupation
Since Feb. 6, the Students of Color Coalition (SCC) has occupied the tower of the University of Michigan Union building to protest ongoing racist practices on a campus that claims to have a longstanding commitment to multiculturalism and diversity. These practices affect faculty, student recruitment and retention, and curriculum. For the SCC, they are symbolized by a secret society housed in the tower, the Michigamua.
The 100-year old Michigamua has a long history of desecrating or otherwise mocking Native American culture. Despite a 1989 contract in which it formally pledged to cease such actions, Michigamua has continued its degradation. This includes using for itself the original, native name of the state (Michigamua, meaning Big Lake), giving members "Indian" names, and calling its office "the wigwam."
Groups of faculty and staff have signed statements of support for the
SCC. But U.M. President Lee Bollinger has met only once and inconclusively with the protesters, made misleading statements, reduced the issue to one of "space allocation," and offered no concessions. Recently he said he never would have supported the 1989 agreement if he had been on campus at the time, pointing to the society's First Amendment rights. He has called the SCC action unreasonable yet he yielded in 24 hours to an all-white group that had
occupied another building to demand U.M. cease purchasing from sweatshop manufacturers.
As of March 7, students expect police action at any time. Meanwhile, five to seven students continue to occupy the tower office.
Students of color and supporters have carried out many creative, militant actions to support their demands. In a single day, they took over the microphone at a lecture about to be given by President Bollinger on the First Amendment, and read a statement. Later some 70 SCC members and supporters crowded the lawn of Bollinger's home and held a barbecue, with ballons and signs on display. At a basketball game with UM and Purdue that evening, supporters crowded the court at halftime, holding up a banner that said STOP RACISM and gave the SCC's unofficial web site address.
The SCC began with a protest at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Symposium; when Henry Louis Gates was to give the keynote address, students took over the microphone and called on the administration to live up to its multicultural commitment. With the occupation, the SCC is demanding that the university cease supporting Michigamua by providing it with exclusive use of space in the tower (other student groups have to apply annually for space).
But SCC concerns reach much farther than that. It has presented a detailed list of problems in every arena of campus life that require action.
One area is the faculty of color. The enrolled undergraduate students of color totaled 26% in 1996 and graduate students of color were 23%. Yet out of 1,305 full professors in 1998, 42 were African American, 68 were Latino, and one was Native American. Just 1% were women of color in 1996. Among the 2,660 tenured or tenure-track instructors, 15% were of color in 1998. They included 128 Black and 68 Latino teachers. Women of color provided 4% of that category. In the professional schools the ratios are even worse: in the Law School, for example, with 21% students of color in 1996 there was a grand total of 8% tenured or tenure-track faculty of color with 2 two of them black faculty.
As for curriculum, the Ethnic Studies situation is grim. It is not possible to get an M.A. or Ph.D even in the long established African and African American Studies program. In the case of Asian Pacific American, Latino and Native American Studies, each is housed under the American Culture Program and students cannot major in any of those ethnic studies components. Latino Studies has two tenured faculty, each spending only half-time there. The Director is on leave next semester; no arrangements have been made to fill the position.
And so it goes, with many other deficiencies listed. Most have been addressed by previous protests, and remain unresolved. The students need support!
CALL OR SEND AN URGENT E-MAIL MESSAGE TO THE BOARD OF REGENTS URGING THEM TO TELL PRESIDENT BOLLINGER OF THEIR CONCERN AND THAT HE SHOULD BE OPEN TO STUDENT DEMANDS. YOU CAN CC-THEM WITH ONE MESSAGE AND ALSO CC PRESIDENT BOLLINGER
University of Michigan Board Of Regents:
David A. Brandon
Laurence B. Deitch
Daniel D. Horning
Olivia P. Maynard
Andrea Fischer Newman
S. Martin Taylor
Katherine E. White
President Lee Bollinger