The Western Michigan University Black Student Union has denounced the university president’s response to the controversy surrounding a concert where a “mostly white” choir sang Negro spirituals.
A single (black) student was angered enough by the concert’s “cultural appropriation” that she posted her grievances on social media. This is turn set off a firestorm of indignation.
Music major Shaylee Faught wrote that the concert — which was led by a black man, by the way — “made a mockery” of her (black) culture. She told the student paper “If I wasn’t there I guarantee no one would’ve said anything.”
WMU President Edward Montgomery said in a statement that Dr. John Wright, the professor from Salisbury State who headed the event, “speaks with passion about his goal to offer an experience that honors and celebrates African-American spirituals.” Montgomery added “the feedback [Wright] received from students and others immediately following the concert suggested the event had done just that.”
But the president also criticized Wright for his comments suggesting the university look into the Faught’s mental health.
Montgomery noted two deans met with Faught to address concerns that her identity felt “disrespected” by the concert. School officials also met with the Black Student Union and Western Michigan Student Association, and a meeting with the Intercultural Competency Committee is “in the works.”
According to the Western Herald, Montgomery’s statement was insufficient for the Black Student Union, which called it “propaganda.”
“[Montgomery’s remarks were] propaganda that was carefully designed to keep Western Michigan University’s public image clean, protect its image of Diversity & Inclusion, and to make the situation seem smaller than it is,” the BSU said in an email to the Office of the President. “[His] response is a tactic to ease the students back to sleep and dampen their justified anger. This response, at its most concrete, affirms how institutionalized this problem is.”
President Montgomery’s response to the “ongoing campus controversy” is a tale of two narratives: The first narrative is textbook corporate crisis management. The second narrative is the truth.
The first narrative paints a picture that the concert offered an experience that honors and celebrates African American spirituals. The University characterizes the concert’s immediate feedback as ONE student from the audience who was offended because she viewed the concert as insensitive cultural appropriation, rather than artistic appreciation.
The second narrative is the truth. The truth is that the concert was performed in front of a white-majority audience. In turn, the responses honoring and celebrating the spirituals were not delivered by black people, the precise group of people being represented. The truth is that hundreds of students (and some performers) from all cultural backgrounds responded with similar discomfort immediately following the performance, not just the one student as President Montgomery stated in his email response to the campus community.
The Fix asked the BSU via its Twitter account exactly how it knows there were “hundreds” of individuals who responded like Ms. Faught. No response was received before publication.