The University Council convened Tuesday evening in the Michigan Union to discuss topics such as documenting student racial categories and the possibility of a resolution to academically protect students targeted by racist incidents.
To begin the meeting, guest speaker Jad Elharake, an LSA senior, presented an initiative to the council calling for all University documents and applications to include a racial category checkbox for undergraduate and graduate students who identify as Middle Eastern / North African. He explained the state of Michigan, outside of the Middle East, has the largest concentration of Middle Eastern / North African individuals. In working with faculty and staff from the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses of the University, Elharake hopes those who identify as ME/NA individuals will no longer be included in the “white” category on University documents.
“Those who can identify with the category include the 22 Arab countries and the three non-Arab countries that may identify because of regional purposes,” Elharake said. “That also includes communities that don’t have nationalities … just so that we’re more inclusive and we’re not creating an Arab box.”
CSG Vice President Nadine Jawad, a Public Policy senior, expressed her support of the initiative, one that has been promoted for several years within Central Student Government. Last year, CSG unanimously passed a resolution supporting the initiative. Jawad highlighted problems of unsustainable discussion within student governments.
“I think right now it’s especially relative because of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion planning, there’s a large push, and I think that finally there’s a larger sense of urgency to the issue,” she said.
In discussion of the campus climate, Jawad introduced a resolution that would encourage a codified policy to protect the academic pursuits of students victim to bias incidents. She explained a hypothetical policy could, for instance, provide students who are targeted by a racist act during exam season with a few extra days to prepare.
“There’s so many ways you could write this policy,” she said. “I think just encouraging people to start having this conversation with something standardized in place should be the first step.”
While council members voiced their interest in the resolution, a common theme among members’ comments was ensuring the resolution be very specific, so as to avoid exploitation by those wishing to take advantage of its protections.
Public Health Rep. Taylor Sullivan, a master’s student in Public Health, suggested such a policy could provide professors currently unsure of how to address racist incidents on campus with a concrete way to help their students directly affected by such acts.
“Maybe this is an opportunity somehow to talk to professors … and (explain) this is a way that you can actually make this inclusive, equitable environment,” she said.
Following discussion from council members, the resolution was tabled for further conversation at a future meeting.
LSA Student Government President Nicholas Fadanelli, an LSA senior, also introduced course grade distribution data, and spoke of LSA SG’s push to provide students with a University-run platform to see grade distributions across all University classes, rather than going through a third-party source such as The Michigan Daily.
“This is probably one of our best opportunities to strike in order to get what a lot of students have been demanding for years, which is this data on how grades in different courses fall,” he said.
Also discussed was the topic of student fees and the possibility of creating a council committee on student fees. Fadanelli pointed out some fees that have not been increased since the late 1990s could solve funding issues for student governments on campus.