Ugh, Now We’ve Got alt-right Jerks

Well, this is just great. Now we get to deal with alt-right/neo-nazi-types.

Here’s how I found out about this on Facebook:

A friend found this in the Halle library, one who is a Middle Eastern WoC. It was not left on some random table. This was on a sign next to the elevator. This is absolutely unacceptable. Eastern Michigan University this is hate speech and needs to be investigated. No Nazi propaganda on our campus.
#TruEMU #OurHouseEMU
Spread this like wildfire.

I posted this on the EMUTalk Facebook group, and according to the conversation there, the administrative office of the library did verify that this is for real, the cards have been removed, and they are going to “investigate further to ensure this sort of material isn’t anywhere else.”

Mark Maynard has posted about it on his blog, and I’m guessing we’ll be hearing more about this in the MSM soon. Stay tuned.

Update #1: The Office of the President sent an email about all this, and apparently, these cards were all over campus this past weekend. Here’s a PDF of that email.

Update #2: There is this article in Mlive– perhaps best not to read the comments.

I have to say that one of the dilemmas/challenges here is trying to figure out when how much is too much when it comes to paying attention to these tings. On the one hand, yes of course, the EMU community should be made aware of this and should condemn it. On the other hand, at what point are we just giving these people what they want in the form of too much attention?

“EMU Police working aggressively to solve incidents of racist vandalism that took place last fall”

From EMU’s PR/Media folks comes “Eastern Michigan University Police working aggressively to solve incidents of racist vandalism that took place last fall.”  It’s a press release that details the various things that the EMU Police have been doing to try to track down the people who did the racist graffiti in the fall 2016 semester.

I suspect that the EMU Police and other authorities are in kind of a tough spot in trying to find who did this stuff because they are certainly under a lot of pressure to find who is responsible, but there probably aren’t a lot of good ways of finding out. They’re trying their best, but that still isn’t going to satisfy everyone.

Incidentally, the one thing that I’ve noticed as a very visible thing on campus that might or might not be related to this incident, I’m not sure: for some time now, there has been a sidewalk under construction that runs between the back of King Hall and the south side of the Marshall Building. The first major graffiti was on the wall of King in this out of the way courtyard that opens on to Marshall– that is, on the side of the building where this sidewalk is going in. Now, for all I know, this sidewalk has been in the plans for years. Still, it’s interesting that it is going in now.

President Smith Listening (or “Listening?”)

I went to the latest of EMU President James Smith’s “Listening Sessions” on Friday, probably the only one I’m going to be able to go to because my January schedule is going to get pretty crazy busy pretty soon. This was the third one of these sessions, and there are three more to come. And for what it’s worth, here’s the schedule:

Session 4: January 17, 2017 2:00 p.m. 217 Porter

Session 5: January 18, 2017 10:00 a.m. 114 Owen

Session 6: February 3, 2017 10:00 a.m. Student Center Auditorium

So what happened? Well, if you saw this video I posted here back in December, then pretty much the same thing as that. Most (though not all) of the questions/comments from the people there were about the debacle of punishing student protesters for sitting around the student center for too long. My colleague Rob Halpern read from a letter he had recently sent to President Smith, one that is along the same lines as to what he wrote for RAW recently.  Rob sent me this latest letter and I’m posting it in its entirety in a separate post on the site. I think it’s fair to say that he captured in that letter the sentiments held by most people in the room. Honestly, Smith et al’s lack of willingness to do the humane thing and dismiss all disciplinary actions against these students for conducting a peaceful sit-in continues to perplex me and pretty much everyone I talk to about this.

And I think you have to say “listening” in scare-quotes because I really didn’t see a lot of that– or maybe a slightly better/different way of putting it is maybe Smith heard what people were saying, but I’m not seeing any evidence that there is any sort of corresponding action. These are more “listening” sessions, as in “let’s let people say stuff, say ‘I hear you,’ say something general back, and then pretty much ignore this and just keep doing what we’re doing.”

One obvious example the administration’s stubbornness on not forgiving these student protesters in the name of “rules are rules.” But I think another example that came up at this session is Smith’s take on football.

During Friday’s session, I had the chance to ask Smith about an interview he did with WEMU back in the late summer about the out of whack athletic department budget. Back then, Smith said something along the lines of “we need to find a different way to pay for football.” I asked him about that, and basically his response “we’re working on it.” Then some other people asked about some other things that need to be done on campus– facility upgrades, a potential new center for media studies facility, and so forth. Smith was interestingly more specific about this, arguing that because we’re not likely to be getting a lot of funding from the state for this sort of thing, we’re going to have to find some outside donors to contribute. So I said something along the lines of “Why don’t we just stop playing football? And what I think you’re saying here is while we’re going to need to get some outside donors to pay for things like a new media studies facility, we’re still going to spend tuition money on football.” His answer was “yes.”

So not listening, “listening.” And frankly, not leadership, but “leadership.”


Prof. Rob Halpern’s Latest Letter to EMU President James Smith

Dear President Smith ~

I hope this finds you well in the New Year.

I think we can agree—judging by responses across the University and elsewhere—that the current mode of adjudicating and reprimanding the Black students who have been sanctioned in the wake of a nonviolent Student Center sit-in is not working in accord with the community’s desire for high ethical standards, nor does it respond to the need to protect student and community wellbeing. By failing to acknowledge this, the Office of the President at EMU continues to compromise its integrity, while further diminishing the community’s good faith in your Strategic Plan when it comes to “Diversity and Inclusion.” Moreover, the actions of the University’s administration have attracted intense criticism across multiple communities, locally and nationally. Indeed, EMU’s reputation as a hospitable university for people of color has been significantly damaged under your watch, and not only by racist vandals, but by the action and inaction of your administration.

Students continue to struggle under hostile conditions to preserve a sense of their own wellbeing—emotionally and physically, socially and psychologically—in the face of an administration that many perceive has failed to protect it. To reprimand these students even minimally only serves to agitate the hostile conditions they are struggling to address. This is unacceptable. Any sanction—even the most symbolic—constitutes a form of punishment and is objectionable in the context of recent events and an affront to community standards and ethics. This is why so many faculty members at your recent listening sessions have spoken out against any form of sanction while insisting—in sync with your own apparent willingness to admit the possibility that the system might be flawed—that you temporarily suspend the disciplinary process currently in place until the community has found a way to assess the adequacy of the Student Code of Conduct as it is currently being administered under these circumstances. Given the situation, this is a perfectly reasonable request, and we are asking that you respond to it as such.

To make matters worse, we’ve learned that the students’ appeals are now not only resulting in the administration upholding these illegitimate sanctions, but these same students are being denied a hearing—that is, they are being denied a voice in this process—on the grounds that the charges are “not serious enough”. EMU seems to want it both ways: to punish students while simultaneously insisting that they are not being punished! The charges are apparently serious enough to warrant an aggressive process of routing out students by way of video technologies; serious enough to disrupt their final weeks of the semester with traumatizing reprimands and sanctions letters, several of which initially threatened suspension; serious enough to warrant hour long meetings (15 of them) with staff from the conduct office; serious enough for faculty to have organized support for these students, often serving as their advocates in their meetings with conduct officers; serious enough for faculty to write letters to families of sanctioned students explaining the embarrassing circumstances that have resulted in their son or daughter being dragged into a draconian process for acting conscionably and exigently in the spirit of Martin Luther King to combat racism on campus, only to be met with the heavy hand of an institutionally racist disciplinary order; serious enough to generate thousands of signatures demanding that sanctions be dropped; serious enough to attract the attention of the ACLU; but somehow not serious enough to warrant a hearing for students who continue to insist—as many of us here do—that the sanctions being administered and upheld are unjust and that even the most minor reprimand constitutes a violation of these students’ Civil Rights.

During that last listening session, you questioned your own power as President to intervene in this process; you also by turns questioned the “wisdom” of any such an intervention, perhaps because you don’t want to disrupt the smooth functioning of bureaucratically administered disciplinary process. It was absolutely clear, however, from the vocally unanimous faculty present at that session that you would have a mandate to intervene right now, and that the specificity of these cases—in the context both of our historical moment and the recent events here on campus—not only warrants, but demands that you intervene. Is it possible that you are beholden to supersensible forces and higher powers? Or, is the administration afraid of certain legal implications, as if honoring these students’ legitimate appeals might open a hypothetical floodgate for less legitimate appeals in some imagined future? If the latter fear has somehow contributed to our current impasse, then it is evermore clear that the Student Code of Conduct needs to be thoroughly re-examined to ensure against any potential confusion between peaceful, nonviolent protest whose goals and methods are in accord with community standards, standards that reflect a history of Civil Rights, and its opposite. Your hypothetical example at today’s session to the effect of “What if Pray Harrold were occupied by student protesters with whom we disagree?” is simply a red herring and misguided, and it needs to be addressed as such. Please don’t make the error of taking this analogy seriously. One approach to correcting this error—while pre-empting whatever fears and bad comparisons—would be for the administration to recognize these cases properly within a Civil Rights context. Thus we are asking you to act in accord with the standards of the community you are here to serve and address this in its proper context. In order to address this adequately and responsibly, the current process—whose integrity has already been impugned—together with its judgments, must be temporarily suspended.

It may be worth rehearsing the egregiousness of the University’s decision to reprimand students in the first place. These students expressed a genuine need to organize their voice, assert their presence, and secure for themselves a safe space inside a building on EMU campus, all in the wake of execrable racist tagging insisting that Black students “leave.” These students’ collective assertion was at once symbolic and material. Their collective action was also implicitly critical of the EMU administration’s response to the campus crisis, and it drew important attention to what many believe to be the inadequacy of that response.

The University’s directive that these students “leave” the Student Center echoes—quite literally—the racists’ demand that Black students leave campus. We all need to hear this echo! It is real; it is material; and failure to listen to it is consequential. Regardless of whatever official rule that bans students from the Student Center after hours, EMU’s decision to echo that racist demand by directing Black students to “leave” is reprehensible. Indeed, it is this directive that ought to be seriously scrutinized, apologized for, and corrected; and yet, it is because of students’ “failure to comply” with this inappropriate directive to “leave” that they are being sanctioned. The irony here is rather grotesque. While this echo might sound insubstantial irrelevant to the administration’s ears, it is loud and clear to the community. You have organized a series of “listening sessions”; now please offer the EMU community a model of careful listening!

These students deserve to have been responded to compassionately and supportively, imaginatively and collaboratively, by administration, DPS, the Office of Student Conduct (Community Standards and Wellbeing), and your office alike, not with directives to vacate a space and told that they are “free to continue their protest outside”: Their protest was precisely about being inside.

As long as the University continues to insist on punishing Black students for their protest, there can be no effective and honest way to move forward with a priority plank in your Strategic Plan. Another way of putting this might be: Without an adequate examination of how conditions of institutional racism are structurally reproduced under the sign of “colorblindness” here at EMU, your plan’s keywords “diversity and Inclusion” will only continue to hemorrhage, and reveal themselves to be empty fetishes.

Many of us continue to hope that you will recognize and make publically clear that the directive to vacate the Student Center ought never to have been issued. Moreover, for administrators and DPS to then devote hours pouring over video footage in an aggressive effort to identify a handful of Black student protesters—students who committed no crime, participated in no violence, damaged no property—as if DPS were seeking the vandals responsible for the racist tagging itself, is not only embarrassing and incomprehensible, it’s a waste of precious community resource.

Under these circumstances, any sanctions whatsoever amount to an unnecessary injury added to the injury of racist violence. To act as if this were simply an issue of “conduct” reveals EMU’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious: We are dealing here with highly volatile issues of race, in response to which the University has acted against the grain of its own pronouncements to foster a hospitable environment intolerant to racism. Insofar as the sit-in took place in response to traumatic racist events on campus, this is first and foremost a race issue and cannot be sanitized by allowing “conduct” to eclipse the context and the stakes.

You might say: What does race matter? The Student Code is colorblind. But if you genuinely believe this, then you, too, are blind. I don’t mean this disrespectfully, I am simply stating the obvious: The EMU administration has failed to acknowledge how its “colorblind” procedures are reproducing conditions of racism on campus. To fetishize “rules” and “process” under current circumstances is to abdicate discretion and resign the process to a “business as usual” logic that is failing the entire University community.

Before I conclude, I want briefly to draw attention and respond to several specific things that came up during your last listening session on 12/8:

— Please don’t trivialize the gravity of even the most minimal of “hand-slapping” reprimands. Students have genuinely been traumatized by the sanctions they’ve received from the Office of Student Conduct. I am often afraid that you can only see the gravity of these sanctions from within an administrative bubble that has sadly become inured to the wellbeing of its own student body.

— Please understand that any resulting antagonisms between students and administration (including DPS) is an effect of structural contradictions that must be addressed at their foundation.

— While you have made it clear that you are responding to the Back Students’ 10-Point Plan, the administration’s failure to take ethical responsibility and suspend all sanctions undermines the integrity of that response in its totality.

In short, to deal only with the super-structural effects of institutional racism is to address the problem superficially. Some of us are demanding that the disciplinary process be suspended until these contradictions can be addressed and responded to; otherwise, these antagonisms will only become increasingly volatile.

Again, EMU’s determination to obscure issues of race as if they were merely issues of discipline is a manifestation of structural racism at EMU. Failure to address it as such places the whole administrative structure on the wrong side of contemporary history. As one of my colleagues eloquently said to you at the last listening session when you were supporting a business as usual approach to discipline, “This moment is different.” In other words, hewing to a conduct code as if its application were colorblind and without acknowledging the implications of context, circumstance, history and situation, can only fail to nourish conditions for wellbeing and social justice at our university, and such a failure will mean a failure of your Strategic Plan.

Given that some of these students have already exhausted the appeals process—which is not only failing to yield a reversal of the sanctions but is insultingly preventing these same students who reject these condescending judgements from moving their appeal to a hearing stage—the decision to move toward correcting this damage is yours and your alone.

As President of this University, you have the power, the discretion, and responsibility to be a model of humility here. Please choose to respond responsibly to this situation. Please find your ethical and historical compass and act accordingly: Suspend this disciplinary process and dismiss these sanctions; apologize for the university’s mishandling of this situation under your watch and correct the course.

Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this letter. I have copied others who might be interested in it.

Sincerely and respectfully yours,

Rob Halpern

Associate Professor of Creative Writing

Department of English

From RAW, “Letter to the Office of Student Conduct”

From the website Radical Washtenaw (or RAW) comes “Letter to the Office of Student Conduct,” which was written by my colleague in the English Department Rob Halpern. I think it fairly accurately expresses the sentiments of a lot of faculty around the punishment of a group of students for hanging around the EMU Student Center too long in protest to the university about the mishandling of racists incidents on campus. A quote from this I certainly agree with:

To act as if this were simply an issue of “conduct” reveals EMU’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious: We are dealing here with highly volatile issues of race, in response to which the university has acted irresponsibly. As such, the administration’s response to this situation can only be adequately addressed in a Civil Rights context as it continues to reproduce the dynamics of institutional racism that the community is struggling to combat.


Powerful video from the EMU chapter of the NAACP

I wish I could share the video here, but it looks like it is only on Facebook right now, so I have to send you to a couple of book of face links– here is to the EMUTalk Facebook group, and here’s to the NAACP EMU group. It’s a simple but powerful video, just faces of students of color at EMU and a voice-over and urgent reading of why these students are so frustrated with the EMU administration and why they feel so ignored. I sure hope someone in Welch Hall takes 5 minutes to watch this, and if I can figure out how to embed it here, I will.

Two Updates:

Here’s a link to the NAACP EMU video:

Second, there’s an article in the FREEP about all this, “Black students ‘disgusted,’ vow to keep protesting at EMU.”

Video of President Smith’s first “Listening Session”

Via the Book of Face Faculty Senate page comes this video, “EMU Listening Session, Dec 9, 2016.” This was the second of these sessions, with four more scheduled for winter 2017.

I skipped around in the video because it’s kind of long and it’s a busy time of the year, but I’ll mention two things for now:

  • It seemed like what Smith wanted to do is what all administrator-types want to do: he wanted to talk about his strategic plan. What everyone at the event wanted to talk about was the dumb way EMU has handled the racist graffiti incidents on campus and the dumb way EMU has punished students for sitting around in the student center. I get the impression Smith wasn’t exactly prepared for that.
  • One issue that came up several times was about hiring diverse faculty and about training for search committees for this– that is, the administration says that faculty are being trained for this when they really aren’t. I think it’s complicated.

    I chaired a search last year, and there was a “training” of a sort in the sense that all the chairs and department heads for various searches were called to a meeting and they Academic HR gave us a slide show that I would describe as common sense. As a member of a committee this year, there’s been no training for the likes of me.But there are two things here that make this sort of targeted hiring for diversity difficult– not to mention the fact that Michigan passed an amendment to its state constitution in 2006 outlawing “preferential treatment” in hiring and lots of other things. First, the people on the search committee don’t know the race or ethnicity of applicants when we’re looking at their file– and by the way, that’s a good thing because not knowing makes it less likely for the committee to discriminate. Second, most people who go to graduate school and earn a PhD in my field are white, meaning that the first thing we really need to do to increase the diversity of faculty is to increase the diversity of graduate studies. That’s a long-term plan.

EMU on the radar of right wing (fake news?) site “The Daily Caller” over Black Student 10 point plan

Funny what comes up in my Google feed about “Eastern Michigan University.” A site called The Daily Caller— which is web site that has  right wing leanings and which walks the line of what is or isn’t fake news– published  “This Taxpayer-Funded University Is Scheming To Make EVERY MAJOR Teach ‘Black Studies.’” According to the article, this “scheme” is going to “compel every department on campus to inject a “black studies” course into “the curriculum of every major.” Ugh.

Oh, and apparently another right-wing/vaguely fake news site, Campus Reform, also published a similar story with the headline “EMU to require ‘black studies’ course in ALL majors.”

More helpfully, The Daily Caller article links to a press release from EMU about the Black Student ten point plan, which tries to explain what EMU is attempting to do in relation to these goals.

What’s interesting to me here is the way these two different web sites presume this is a bad thing. I mean, setting aside some of the logistical problems with the Black Student ten point plan for a second: what’s so wrong about trying to increase diversity and awareness of the African American experience?

Tiran Burrell’s Open Letter to President Smith About the Bad Handling of Things by Student Conduct

Just the other day, I also received this letter from EMU alum Tiran Burrell about the mess with the student reprimands/suspensions/whatever is going on with the sit-in actions in the student center. I learned about Burrell’s letter from an email from Michael Wood the other day, and now that I have permission, I’ll share Burrell’s email here (and again, if anyone has something they want to share here, send it in!):

Dear Eastern Michigan University Regents & Administration:

As a Eastern Michigan University Alum, current graduate student, and African American male, I am disappointed and disgusted with the manner in which you all have handled the situations around the hateful graffiti on campus. You all have been seemingly adverse in your actions to, first of all, make your students feel safe and wanted at this university. You all have failed to send further correspondence on behalf of the University since our previous meeting with myself and other student leaders. You have failed to provide any further updates for your students on the investigation of the racist graffiti incidents. You have failed to do anything to show students any glimmer of hope that you all actually care about the concerns of the general population of African American students.

More after the jump:

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Michael Wood’s Open Letter on the Student Code of Conduct

Back in early November, Michael Wood– the acting president of the EMU Black Student Union and one of the students who was initially charged in the whole student center sit-in situation– wrote an open letter addressed to EMU President William Smith regarding about his role/punishment here. Way back when, he sent me a copy of the letter. Now that has started, it seems like this is a good time and place to publish that letter.

Dear President Smith:

I am a Secondary Education: Language, Literature, & Writing major here at Eastern Michigan University from Flint, Michigan. Flint is still enduring a water crisis and is one of the most poverty stricken and violent cities in America. I say this to infer: where I come from it is not enough to be smart, you have to have heart. My time at EMU is supposed to be a pathway to a better life and an environment where I do not have to live under intimidation, oppression, and intolerance. This has not been the case and while I endure many micro aggressions everyday on campus the blatant and repetitive hate speech and terrorist actions have exposed EMU to have a race problem. This has been a traumatic experience which has affected me emotionally, physically, and mentally. While I have “heart”, this semester is weighing heavily upon me and others.

(the rest after the jump).

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