Speak Out: An Opportunity

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Guest post by the United Coalition for Racial Justice (UCRJ)

The Diag Freeze Out and the Black Student Union’s #BBUM Twitter campaign reignited a movement for racial justice at the University of Michigan.  These actions challenged the administration to deliver a swift and long-reaching series of proposals, ranging from Provost Pollack’s announcement of new diversity initiatives, to the administration’s talks with the BSU, to its $300,000 pledge to renovate the Trotter Multicultural House.  The University has also established a new committee to confront issues of campus climate and enrollment.  But forty years of such committees have failed to fulfill the University’s 1970 promise to increase African American enrollment to 10%.  This failure points to the insufficiency of university bureaucratic solutions which deliver change from the top down, rather than empowering the student body to collectively build an inclusive university.  The success of the racial justice movement at the University of Michigan depends upon our grassroots efforts to educate, strategize, build coalitions, and offer creative solutions.  The University has stated that it is “listening.”  Now is our opportunity to speak out.

This opportunity is why we, the United Coalition for Racial Justice (UCRJ), are inviting everyone to participate in a Speak Out on February 18th, from 8 PM to 8 AM in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.  We are a broad coalition of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff which draws its membership from existing student organizations and streams of activism.  We seek to broaden the current racial climate conversation to include the concerns of other underrepresented minorities as well as those of graduate students, staff, and faculty members.

Moreover, we hope to provide a space in which students, faculty, and staff can come together to build long-lasting coalitions which will ensure the sustainability of the current racial justice movement.  Currently, we see a chasm between leading student organizations and unaffiliated students, undergraduates and graduate students, and between various student organizations.  This gap hampers our ability to apply coordinated and sustained pressure on the administration to change the university climate. These gaps also create cycles of historical amnesia due to turnover in classes of students, eboards, and student organizations.  More cohesive activist coalitions would provide a needed check against closed, top-down administrative decision-making.

Our Speak Out will also provide a space for students of color to come together and discuss their experiences navigating the campus climate. Our event combines the testimonial power of the open-mic “speak out” with the power of the Civil Rights-era “sit in.”  The first portion of the event – the Demonstration – begins with an open-mic, followed by a keynote address by Dr. Barbara Ransby.  Dr. Ransby was a founding member of UM’s United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR), which made history in 1987 with a 200-student, 24-hour sit-in shutting down Fleming Hall. The second portion – Political Education – will feature student and faculty-led sessions on issues ranging from affirmative action and political organizing to the relationship between campus and community and curriculum design. Finally, the Strategy segment of the evening will focus on coalition building and exploring innovative ways to create lasting change in the university’s climate. The evening will also feature performance art, music, and free food and all are welcome to participate.

Our event runs through the night for twelve hours.  We chose such a long event format to draw from UM’s rich history of student activism, notably the 1965 overnight Teach-In to protest the Vietnam War. Organizers held the event throughout the evening to not disrupt classes or conflict with much-needed study spaces.  Like the 1965 event, we will bring 1,000 people together to have a much-needed dialogue about a pressing issue that has national resonance. There have yet to be any town hall or mass meetings on campus to engender anything but clandestine and clouded solutions. Our goal is to imagine what an inclusive space on campus dedicated to issues of race, class, gender and sexuality might look like, and create it. We are Michigan, The Black Student Union, and the #BBUM campaign have bravely advanced the first calls for a new movement for diversity and inclusion on campus, but it cannot stop with the struggle of a few. The Speak Out will be geared towards hearing from students of color who are not parts of executive boards or other leading student organizations. We will develop organizing tools and strategies, so students can create a sustainable movement that will pressure the incoming administration and hold it accountable for previous commitments.  Now is our time to be heard. Now is our time to speak out.

FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/events/1400367210211848/

(Image © Michigan Daily, 1965)

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