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BLM activists demand mandatory class on institutional racism at Western Michigan University

Activists: Faculty should create a reading list that includes more transgender people of color, too

Black Lives Matter activists at Western Michigan University want to see their school institute a university-wide class on institutional racism for all undergraduate and graduate students.

It comes as part of a longer list of demands from different student groups at the public university in Kalamazoo.

The list of demands was in response to the university president asking the campus community to submit to him “specific steps or areas we need to examine to eradicate institutional racism in our midst” in a June 8 message to the school.

The demands were originally released on July 13 in a letter directed at university administrators.

The activists, who represent black student groups, Greek Life, educators unions and the College Democrats, want to see the university change the curriculum “to incorporate a deeper understanding of how racism pervades all systems and institutions in our society.”

The best way to do this is to mandate a university-wide course on “systemic racism,” the coalition argues.

The university can also address this demand by requiring faculty to create reading lists that “center the perspectives of cisgender and transgender Black people and other people of color.”

Other demands include: increased funding for the Racial Justice Advocacy Board, an audit of the diversity of faculty members and a demand that the diversity of the faculty reflect the diversity of the country, and required training on implicit bias and systemic racism for all “search, hiring, and promotion committees.”

An additional demand is that class surveys include a question on how well the course challenged systemic racism.

Jerjuan Howard, the president of the Western Michigan University Black Student Union, told Michigan Live that people don’t view racism the right way because it isn’t prevalent in what they study.

“People don’t view racism as they should because it isn’t present in their everyday life or in the classroom,” Howard said.

“If you’re being taught that America is all good, all powerful and morally intact then it’s hard to understand and empathize and sympathize with why people are out there marching and saying they are tired.”

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The Black Student Union did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The College Fix, nor did the Graduate Student Association or the Pan-Hellenic Council, which represents Greek Life on campus. All three groups signed the letter to the administration.

The teaching assistants’ unions, the College Democrats and the Western Student Association also signed the letter.

The groups also want to make it easier for students to anonymously report instructors and professors for incidents of racial bias in the classroom. The demands do not explain if they want faculty punished for allegations of racism.

The teaching assistants union signed onto the letter but did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The Fix.

One free speech group warned that universities have to be careful with regard to accusations of racism against faculty members.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said that students have a First Amendment right to criticize professors, but professors should also be able to teach subject matter that others may find controversial.

“Students may comment on their professor’s approach to racism in course evaluations, but as a public university bound by the First Amendment, Western Michigan University must respect its faculty members’ right to explore relevant material in the classroom, including material that students may find controversial or disagreeable,” Will Creeley, FIRE’s legal director, told The College Fix in an email.

The university did not respond to multiple requests for comment. One listed spokesperson for the university said she was no longer employed at the university but would forward the message to her former boss, Paula Davis, a spokesperson for the university.

Davis told Michigan Live that the university will review the proposal.

“We are in the process of reviewing the letter received yesterday, and plan to, as requested, continue the dialogue before the end of this month,” she said. “We appreciate this groundswell of advocacy for collective action to stamp out systemic racism.”

Davis did not respond to requests for comment from The College Fix.

MORE: Black students at Rice University demand segregated campus ‘Black House’

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.