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.
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
of faculty and staff have signed statements of support for the
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
another building to demand U.M. cease purchasing from sweatshop manufacturers.
of March 7, students expect police action at any time. Meanwhile, five to seven
students continue to occupy the tower office.
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.
SCC began with a protest at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
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).
SCC concerns reach much farther than that. It has presented a detailed list of
problems in every arena of campus life that require action.
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.
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.
so it goes, with many other deficiencies listed. Most have been addressed by
previous protests, and remain unresolved. The students need support!
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