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Black Michigan University Students Punished for Peacefully Protesting Racist Campus Incidents

Students protest at Eastern Michigan University (Twitter)

Black students peacefully protesting re-occurring racist incidents on Eastern Michigan University’s campus this fall now find themselves being punished by the school’s mostly white Board of Regents for exercising their first amendment rights.

While initially threatening to expel the students, administration officials at the Ypsilanti, Michigan, school ultimately gave delayed suspensions and admonishments to 12 of the sit-in participants, but more could follow, Metro Times reported Wednesday, Dec. 21.

Six racial incidents have happened on the campus since September, Atlanta Black Star reported, including racist graffiti scrawled on an administrative building in September and more graffiti marring a classroom building in November. That same month, someone also called a residence hall assistant and asked, “What’s it like living with monkeys?”

The incidents have led to several on-campus demonstrations by Black students, chief among them a 200-student sit-in in the student center on Nov. 2. Fifty of the students remained in the center for four hours past its 2 a.m. closing time, and one week later, the administration threatened them with expulsion.

The American Civil Liberties Union stepped in Nov. 17 by sending a letter requesting that EMU not expel students who were exercising their constitutional rights, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“It is bad enough that people are painting ‘KKK’ and threatening racial epithets on campus buildings and EMU cannot catch the perpetrators,” the letter said in part. “But to top that off, the administration is insisting on expelling African-American students for leading a harmless, nondisruptive sit-in as a response to the hate. People of color and religious and ethnic minorities do not feel safe on campus and are traumatized. Your response is viewed as callous and may scare away hundreds of prospective students of color who might otherwise consider EMU.”

One of the 12 disciplined students, Michael Wood, blames the overall whiteness of the college’s administration for the punishments.

“I 100 percent believe that this situation would have been resolved better, more quickly and handled differently if there was diversity [in EMU’s leadership],” Wood said. He added that the school likely would not use “bully tactics” towards protesters if there were more Black regents on the board.

Of the eight members of EMU’s Board of Regents, only one is Black: James Stapleton, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2007 before a 2009 reappointment. The other seven members are white Republicans who were appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

But EMU spokesperson Geoff Larcom said regents have no direct influence in punishments for students and denied race was a factor. He also noted that two Black officials met with the students and one of them pointed to the student code of conduct as the only factor considered in the punishments.

As for the lack of diversity on the board, MLive reported on Tuesday, Dec. 20 that Snyder has announced two new Black appointees to the board, Eunice Jeffries and Alexander Simpson, who will replace Stapleton.

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