A hateful message written on the door of a residence hall room on Central Michigan University's campus Nov. 8 prompted leaders of three student organizations to call for action against racism and hate.
Leaders of the CMU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Black Student Union and the Collective Action for Cultural Unity have sought action on four initiatives. Campus officials have worked closely with the three students involved in the incident and with the organization leaders to resolve or make significant progress on each initiative.
"We join with our students in the urgency for action to address racism and injustice," CMU President Bob Davies said. "We take these concerns seriously and are dedicated to bringing students, faculty, staff and alumni together to address these issues proactively.
"An amazing sense of unity, collaboration and dedication to diversity and inclusion is spreading across our campus, with many people coming forward to say, 'I want to help,'" Davies said. "This spirit speaks volumes about who we really are at CMU. We're by no means perfect, yet individuals are speaking up and reaching out with inspired determination to ensure all feel safe and welcome here."
Two of the requested initiatives centered on education, including cultural courses in academic majors and minors and race and ethnicity training for students, faculty and staff.
"We feel strongly that education is the best way to counteract racism," said junior Moe' Nai Robinson, president of the Black Student Union. "We need continuous education as students start at CMU to set the standard that Central doesn't tolerate this."
Conversations have highlighted existing educational and training offerings and progress that can be made in how individuals perceive those who are different from them.
"As a university, we need people to think about long-term, ongoing opportunities, and training," Chief Diversity Officer A.T. Miller said. "We want to build these opportunities in such a way that people request them and use them to expand their understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion."
Hired this spring, Miller is CMU's first chief diversity officer.
He points to two required courses for all students. One is on U.S.-based racial oppression and another is a requirement starting in fall 2019 on other forms of discrimination. Both are positive, yet he wants to see continued effort to make the courses relevant to every major and focused on skills and dialogue.
"We know an event took place, but we're not stopping there. The university is not stopping there. University officials are moving forward to make improvements; they are not sweeping it under the rug. They are working with students to help make change." — CMU junior Moe' Nai Robinson.
Beyond education, the student leaders also asked for a public apology from the officer who responded to the incident for making an attempt at empathy that the students did not find fully respectful. After learning more about the interaction with the students involved, however, the student leaders decided a public apology was unnecessary.
"The police officer apologized that evening to the students directly affected, so we determined amongst us and the students involved that it is best to keep it private," Robinson said.
A final initiative requests cameras be placed in the hallways of each floor in every residence hall. The pros and cons of this concept are being explored in depth by students and Residence Life leaders.
The student leaders, in their ideas on how to move the campus forward, noted a need for continued unity.
This is especially important for junior Areauna Rogers, president of the Collective Action for Campus Unity.
"I would love for us to be one community, but too often we're segregated into our own groups," Rogers said. "We need to break down barriers; you can't understand others if you're segregated into separate groups all the time."
The mission of the Collective Action for Cultural Unity is to expose misconceptions and the miseducation of mainstream America in regards to race, religion, gender, country of origin or any other aspect of a group of people that isolates them.
Junior Australyah Coleman, president of CMU's NAACP chapter, agrees students, faculty and staff need to cross boundaries more often to learn about each other.
"We need to feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable," she said.
A focus on tomorrow
CMU and student leaders agree progress is being made and express commitment to ongoing efforts.
"We know an event took place, but we're not stopping there. The university is not stopping there," Robinson said. "University officials are moving forward to make improvements; they are not sweeping it under the rug. They are working with students to help make change."