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Students Organize To Combat Racism At U-m

Students Organize To Combat Racism At U-m image Students Organize To Combat Racism At U-m image
Parent Issue
Month
April
Year
1987
Copyright
Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By
Agenda Publications
OCR Text

ANN ARBOR - Two recent incidente of blaiani racism at the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor campus have sparked an upsurge in student activism, won severa] concessions from the University administration, and inspired the formation of a militant campus wide coalition to combat racism. The first incident occurred on January 27, when a group of Black women held a meeting in one of the University dormitories. After repeated interruptions by white students wanting to use the room, a KKK-type flyer was slipped under the door declaring "Open Hunting Season" on Blacks, referred to in the leaflet as "Spooks," "Saucerlips," and "Porch monkeys." The leaflet went on to outline "hunting regulations" and concluded by informing "hunters" of "how to spot a porch monkey... look for bright colors, watermelon seeds, Cadillacs, the smell of pork chops, and hookers." Understandably, Black students on campus were outraged by the incident. Some white students, however, suggested that campus activists were "taking the flyer too seriously," arguing "that it was probably only a joke." The Black student community, nevertheless, saw the issue quite differently. Black and anti-racist white students viewed this event in the context of the December murder of young Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, New York in which a racist mob actually carried out the hunt which this leaflet advocated. In response to the incident, leaders from the Free South África Coordinating Committee, the Black Student Union and a group of concemed students came together to organize a mass rally against racism on February 6. The militant and spirited rally involved more than 300 students, with a contingent of 50 students marching from the dorm where the incident occurred to the center of campus where the rally was held. The following Thursday, February 12, students in another dormitory organized a teach-in on racism attended by 400 students. However, the teach-in was marred by yet another racist assault. As a group of about 25 students, ing anti-racist banners, marched Grom the north section of campus to the teach-in, a group of racists in one of the dorms boldly displayed a Klan uniform in their dorm window as the marchers passed by. In addition to protest actions, a group of about 30 campus activists scheduled an emergency meeting with the Acting University President James Duderstadt to discuss the issue of racism on campus. At the February 16 meeting, the University made clear its insensitivity to students of color on campus. A full two weeks after the threatening racist flyer was distributed, there was no serious investigation underway to even identify the perpetuators. Furthermore, the highest ranking, and one of the highest paid administrators on campus did not know what the University's legal responsibilities were in terms of reporting possible civil rights violations on campus. When asked by community activist, Paquetta Palmer, "Doesn't the University have an obligation to protect students from violations of their civil rights?," he responded, "lts a question of degree." The second major instance of racism on campus was the airing of a viciously anti-Black radio program on Febmary 4, by a student disc jockey on the University fundcd radio station, WJJX. The disc jockey, Ted Sevransky, aired a series of racist jokes including: "Who are the two greatest Black women in history? Aunt Jemima and Motherfucker," "Why do Black people smell? So blind people can hate them too," and "Why do Blacks always have sex on their minds? Because all their pubic hairs are on their heads." On February 17, this broadcast was brought to the attention of a newly formed anti-racist coalition by a Black student who was able to obtain a tape of the program. The following day 20 Black students marched to the radio station to confront the DJ during his regularly scheduled broadcast. When they arrived the entire station was closed. Students then called top level administrators and demanded that a University spokesperson come to the station to respond to student anger. University administrator Frank Cianciola met with the students and promised to "look into the issue." The students wained Cianciola that this typ of racism was simply not going to be tolerated any longer. The disc jockey was subsequently fired and the entire radio station was closed by the University. On March 4th there was yet another mass demonstration of 250 students who marched to the Fleming Building and demanded to see top administrators. When Acting President Duderstadt arrived, students read off 12 anti-racist demands and promised to be back and to escálate if the demands were not met by the March 19th Regents meeting. This confrontation received nationwide coverage. In addition, on March 5th State Representative Morris Hood held a formal legislative hearing on U-M racism on campus, which was attended by 650 members of the campus community. On March 19, the leaders of the United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR ), a progressive anti-racist group led by Black students, organized more than 300 students to forcefully confront the university. UCAR leaders argued that the University administration should take principal responsibilty for the racist climate on campus because of U-M's refusal to take a strong anti-racist stand. After a meeting on March 18 with President Shapiro, students feit the administration was not responding seriously to the increasingly tense racial situation on campus or to the student's demands. Therefore, instead of attending the monthly one hour public comment section of the Regent's meeting, as had been done dozens of times to no avail, students decided it was time to take peaceful direct action. After a brief rally outside the Fleming Administration building at 3 pm about 300 students poured inside the building for an 18 hour sit-in. The slogan of this action was "No more business as usual. U-m's business is racist business." Early Friday March 20, the protesters moved outside and formed a human blockade in front of the entrances to the building. The morning protest was spirited and most people were prepared to be arrested if necesssary, to keep the building closed. However, to avoid either confrontation or dialogue, the University administration had pólice escort employees through underground tunnels into the building. Nevertheless, the action was a step forward for the student movement. Students came together in large numbers demonstrating a very high level of unity and committment At about 10 am the protest organizers decided to end this particular action and to move to the Regents meeting in progress to demand that the University place the issue of racism on its agenda immediately. The president was forced to cali a meeting at which 300 students conveyed the urgency of the situation on campus, calling it a "state of emergency." Unconvinced that the University administration was prepared to open a genuine dialogue on student concerns, UCAR members invited national civil rights leader, Rev. Jesse Jackson to Ann Arbor to draw greater attention to the campus trouble. Monday, March 23, after a day of meetings with students, faculty and adniinistrators Jackson spoke to a crowd of 5,000 at Hill Auditorium. At the rally, President Shapiro announced six sions to student demands. On Tues, March 24 UCAR held its weekly mass meeting with over 200 students in attendance. UCAR leaders stressed the fact that only two of the original twelve demands were met fully: a degree for Nelson Mándela and an orientation workshop on racism. The rest were either partly addressed, postponed, or rejected outright. Students emphasized that the University's recent concessions represented a beginning, not a culmination of the struggle and that it would be dangerously naive to think that a problem as complex and pervasive as racism could be negotiated away in a day. For example, the night of Jacksons speech a Black student in Mosher-Jordan dormitory received a note under his door which suggested that he "go back to África" befare he is lynched. At this point UCAR leaders intend to press forward with swift and decisive implementation of the current concessions and to continue to mobilize increasing numbers of students and faculty into the campus anii-racist movement. All supporters are urged to join the second annual Arm Arbor Freedom March Against Rascism and Apartheid (see Saturday 4 in CALENDAR).

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