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Students of Color Fight Racism at Univ. of Mich. with Month-Long Occupation


Elizabeth Martinez

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

(734)

930-3006

dabran@umich.edu

Laurence

B. Deitch

(313)392-1055

ldeitch@umich.edu

Daniel

D. Horning

(616)

842-1351

dhorning@umich.edu

Olivia

P. Maynard

(810)

239-1535

omaynard@umich.edu

Rebecca

McGowan

(734)

668-8873

rmcgowan@umich.edu

Andrea

Fischer Newman

(734)

955-3428

afisch@umich.edu

S.

Martin Taylor

(313)

235-7266

taylorsm@umich.edu

Katherine

E. White

(313)

577-1054

kewhite@umich.edu

President

Lee Bollinger

(734)

764-6270

leecbol@umich.edu

 

 

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