Inclusion at UM-Dearborn: Are students truly being represented?

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On Feb. 7th, 2020, the University of Michigan-Dearborn Student Government passed a resolution to “call upon the University of Michigan-Dearborn to support disabled, multicultural, and LGBTQ+ students.”

The resolution seems amazing, right? 

Not quite. 

Unfortunately, the intent of the resolution resulted in an impact that worked in the opposite direction of its intent.

The resolution begins by stating the university’s core values, and notes that inclusion is ingrained in our campus and what we strive for. It then continues with a series of clauses that insist that UM-Dearborn is diverse and inclusive. 

But it stops there. 

While UM-Dearborn has a history of claiming this to be an earnest effort of theirs, is it reflective of what is currently happening on our campus? And why does a resolution need to be written to restate Dearborn’s policies? 

Simply put, what is the point of this resolution?

Upon investigating the creation of this resolution, it came to my attention that not only were various steps skipped, but voices were automatically silenced — something that I have previously seen within university administration. Little did I know, I would see the same thing happen among the students who are, also, supposed to be “representing” us. 

During the summer of 2019, university administration made the collective decision to remove InCLUDE, a room on the second floor of the University Center that was meant to serve as a safe space for LGBTQ+ and Multicultural students. With this, they also made the decision to create the Center for Social Justice and Inclusion (CSJI) — a new space that would aim to provide services for four different groups: LGBTQ+, Multicultural, Women, and Veterans — all of whom previously had their own spaces.

By the time the fall season arrived, students, faculty and staff were not only scrambling to adjust to the changes, but they were figuring out ways to find the comfort and safety that previously belonged to them just months before.

So, why? Why was there such a big culture shock? Why did it seem like everything happened so quickly? 

To put it simply: students, faculty, and staff were not consulted. They weren’t consulted before, during, or after the changes were made.

And I saw the same thing happen with this Inclusion Resolution. The resolution does not only fail to accurately represent the current conditions of inclusion on our campus, but it fails to highlight the lives that were impacted by those conditions.

But what are these conditions? 

In an attempt and with the intention to provide more intersectional programming and to protect students’ identities, the creation of CSJI did just the opposite. 

Students have expressed not wanting to go into CSJI with the fear that it may reveal aspects of their identity that they did not want others to know about. Its location also works against the protection and privacy that students of these identities desperately need to feel safe and to succeed.

LGBTQ+ and multicultural students had lost their second home; the one that allowed them to come together every single day to bond, get work done, and feel safe.

LGBTQ+ and multicultural students were forced to assimilate into an office space with a list of rules and little accommodations. 

We lost the Women’s Resource Center — a hub that provided resources to not just women, but to all students.

Veterans and LGBTQ+ folks were expected to coexist in the same space, despite the many differences that their communities hold. One may consider both communities to be polar opposites, as age differences, communication styles, and preferred methods of social interaction all vary.

Not to mention the political and social differences when we address the academic definition of marginalization, and what it means to place together communities who are marginalized differently in society. 

It has almost been a year now, and we still do not have a Multicultural Coordinator. Our LGBTQ+ Coordinator, Blake Bonkowski, said farewell to UM-Dearborn on Oct. 29th, 2019. Currently, both positions are still empty.

And if university administration had taken input from the involved communities before making such rash decisions, these conditions could have most likely been prevented. 

All four communities have dealt with loss and grief, myself included. Since August 2019, I have been aware of these issues, and I am only learning more as time progresses. I have spoken to our students; I have spoken to university administration; I have felt the struggle, I have cried, and I have survived alongside my peers.

Despite this, though, and despite my past involvement within Student Government as Vice President this past semester, I was not consulted about the resolution. I was not included. 

But it’s not about me — it’s about the information missing, the efforts of inclusiveness on our campus misrepresented, our students’ voices underrepresented, and the indisputable fact that the resolution carries absolutely no call to action.

When we fail to reach out effectively — when we fail to collect the voices that represent the current conditions of an environment — we are skipping a step that is not only crucial to the lives that are currently living those conditions, but is crucial to generations to come. When we fail to collect the voices, we are automatically silencing those voices. 

This is why outreach is important. 

This is why our university administration is currently failing us, and why Student Government has failed us with the resolution. 

This is a warning sign. 

If we are not represented by the students who claim to represent us, and we are failed by Student Government the way that the university administration has failed us, where will our hope come from? Who will we be able to trust? Rely on? How will we take collective action?

The answer is: Nowhere.

That is, until students come together outside of Student Government to make things happen.

Over the past month, I have reached out to various student leaders, and I have created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Focus Group. Over the months of talking to students and administration and seeing no movement, I am working to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds are connecting and working together to take collective action. I am working to empower students to take action for themselves. 

And students are taking action all by themselves.

Students are leaving positions that no longer serve them. Students who were not originally activists are becoming activists. Students who were not comfortable talking to administration are becoming more confident and are voicing their opinions, feelings, concerns, and demands.

And while the people in power are failing us, we are succeeding on our own terms. We are our own hope, and we will not stop until justice is served.

No quotes are included in this piece. This article is an accumulation of my experiences and conversations with others. All opinions are my own.