The University Record, March 6, 2000

Panel to examine allocation of space to student groups

Editor’s note: The following story was accurate and the student protest in the tower of the Michigan Union was still ongoing as of Record press time Friday afternoon (March 3).

By Julie Peterson
News and Information Services

A panel will be formed immediately to examine the allocation of space to student organizations on campus, according to a Feb. 25 letter to the campus community by President Lee C. Bollinger. The three student groups with office space in the Michigan Union tower—Michigamua, Phoenix and Vulcans—have agreed to refrain from using the space while the panel process is under way.

The panel, which will consist of three senior administrators from the schools and colleges, was formed in response to issues raised by members of the Students of Color Coalition (SCC). Members of the SCC have been occupying the tower of the Michigan Union since Feb. 6 in protest of the student organization Michigamua, which has over its history engaged in practices the protestors have termed racist and demeaning to the Native American community. The SCC has demanded that the University “disassociate itself from and sever its unique institutional relationship with Michigamua and the other two secret societies” housed in the tower.

In his letter, Bollinger noted that the three organizations housed in the tower occupy offices that “are not subject to periodic review and reallocation.” “It is important for us to examine whether space is currently being allocated in a manner that is fair and equitable to all students,” he said. “In my view, those decisions must be made in a way that does not penalize any group for its views or beliefs and yet fully considers history and past practices.”

The panel will gather input from students, staff, faculty and community members through a variety of means including holding public hearings. The panel is expected to work quickly and present its recommendations before the end of the winter term, at which point the University will make a decision about the Michigan Union tower space as well as any other exclusively assigned space that may exist elsewhere on campus, Bollinger said.

As a result of negotiations between the SCC and Michigamua, members of Michigamua have apologized for the past practices of the group, and have agreed to change any remaining practices that are offensive or demeaning. The cultural material and other artifacts found in the tower meeting space have been catalogued and are now in the possession of the SCC, awaiting their return to the Native American community, said Royster Harper, interim vice president for student affairs.

“It is time now for us to come together and begin to heal ourselves,” Harper said. “The students in the SCC have started this process of reviewing space and have made significant progress directly with Michigamua. It is up to us to move that process forward now.”

Joe Reilly, a senior in the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, president of the Native American Student Association and spokesperson for the protestors, called the president’s action “an inadequate and unacceptable response” to the protestors’ concerns.

In a statement released Feb. 27, he said, “We have raised valid concerns of a hostile campus climate created by an organization predicated on the stereotyping and humiliation of a specific racial group. The University has answered with the formation of a panel to discuss the issue of student organization office space, but has failed to confront the underlying reality of direct institutional support of an organization that, despite legal agreements, continues to subscribe to racist and culturally destructive practices and behaviors.

“We hope that the University of Michigan and President Bollinger will find the courage to confront the issue of institutional racism within this public university. We cannot leave the tower and allow for this racism to be reincarnated in this public facility under the guise of free speech.”

The president expressed his concern about such stereotyping in a statement Feb. 17. “It must be said, again and again, that responsible membership in our University community implies caring about the perceived impact of one’s actions on others,” he said. “Of particular importance are perceptions, however unintended, of cultural offense, and those behaviors that cause others in the community to be excluded and unappreciated.

“Whether conscious or not, practices that negatively stereotype groups in our society cause unjust pain and humiliation. I believe such practices are not acceptable behaviors in a University that values and fosters diversity.”

The president also noted in his Feb. 25 letter that the University “must create a learning environment where each student is intellectually engaged and participates fully. This requires a climate of openness, respect and tolerance. Day in and day out we are actively engaged in cultivating this climate through activities at every level in the University.”