The University Record, April 22, 1998


An open letter to the University of Michigan community:

During the past weeks, our community has been involved in an intense debate related to the completion of the Michigan Student Assembly elections for the 1998-99 academic year. We feel it necessary to address issues concerning the tenor and content of some of the publicity provided by an MSA candidate.

As a university community, we have worked to create an environment of respect for the many groups and entities that comprise our world here at the University of Michigan. In recent years, we have formalized our commitment to this high ideal by carefully articulating these goals in policies and acting on these goals through programs and services. Because of this commitment, we find it necessary to speak out against behavior and speech which we feel violate values so important to our sense of community.

Some of the campaign materials, both printed and electronic, have offended many individuals and groups by their racist, sexist and demeaning tone. A thorough evaluation of the complaints filed about this election publicity has concluded that there has been no prosecutable violation of the University's Code of Student Conduct, the guidelines on the use of electronic mail, or the rights and privileges of individuals and groups as monitored and enforced by the University's Department of Public Safety. However, that does not mean that we as a community must find these to be acceptable expressions.

As we look to the 21st century, it is imperative that all of us in this community work together toward a shared vision. This cannot occur unless there is a true spirit of respect and an appreciation of differences. A true spirit of community is forged not just by making certain that we exercise all of our basic rights to the maximum. It is instead created and nurtured by an awareness of others around us and by a mature appraisal of the consequences of our behaviors on others who also comprise this community.

We recognize the pain that this campaign has visited upon the African American community directly and the other communities of color by extension. We also recognize that the lack of respect demonstrated in this campaign affects and diminishes all of us in this community. Our hope is that we can provide support to those individuals whose historic struggles have been trivialized and mocked. We also must recognize that we are all lessened when any group in our community is harmed.

We wish to invite all groups to continue to express and assert their concerns in a constructive and productive fashion. We realize that this letter, the latest in the many campus communications distributed during the last couple of weeks, is part of this ongoing dialogue and debate that we wish to foster and support in these difficult times.

Maureen A. Hartford,
vice president for student affairs
E. Royster Harper,
associate vice president for student affairs