On Dec. 9, 2020, the Michigan Tech Senate passed proposal 41-21. This proposal, “Embodying University Values: Condemning Hate Speech, White Supremacy, and Ethnically and Racially Motivated Intolerance” acknowledges systematic racism as a barrier to campus diversity. The proposal resolves to educate students and staff about African American prejudice and systematic racism, as well as to work towards a campus that is more diverse by protecting the rights of students, staff, and faculty that belong to historically discriminated against minorities. Additionally, the proposal denounced white supremacy, systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fatphobia, and other oppressive and intolerant behaviors.
In response to this resolution, two senators, Associate Professor Jeffrey B. Burl and Professor Jaroslaw W. Drelich voiced their opposition, sparking a campus-wide controversy. Many are calling for these professors to be fired; there was even a petition going around calling for Professor Burl’s termination.
At the senate meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 3, many students and other community members voiced their thoughts on these letters. First, they opened the meeting by apologizing to the minority communities who were harmed by the letters and continue to be harmed by the bigotry that exists on campus. They went through some formalities and official proceedings until it was time for public comments. There was a wide variety of comments, from people who disliked this proposal, to people disappointed and ashamed of Michigan Tech, to people who want to address and fix this problem.
Before moving officially to public comments, the Senate shared research that showed how racism persists. Looking at the statistic, coupled with the plethora of people who shared their experience being put down, discriminated against, and not feeling safe on campus — it is no lie that racism exists here. Many of the participants urged for Michigan Tech to take action to make it a more diverse and safe place that is representative of America, of which the Senators agreed. One common sentiment many shared was that MTU needs to hold people who discriminate accountable, namely Professor Burl and Professor Drelich. The following are just a few of the people who shared their sentiments.
One community member, Randy McClellan, spoke about the parade on Sept. 27, where he claimed this wasn’t a xenophobic or racist display and wasn’t indicative of systematic racist. Additionally, he claimed that the rainbow flags, “communist China” flags, Iranian, and Syrian flags that were flying during the parade of nations were threatening, comparing it to the confederate flag.
Another person, a 5th-year undergraduate student Anna Browne, shared how unsafe she felt after reading the letters as a person from a minority group, but claimed she felt better after hearing the Senators support for minorities on campus.
Clair Decker, a representative from the Panhellenic Council named gathered comments from various sorority women from Michigan Tech. These comments highlighted the sexism that women experience here. One woman was sexually assaulted twice and told by a male therapist at MTU, “what did you expect with a 3 to 1 ratio?”. Multiple women were discouraged from pursuing a STEM career because they are women. Decker even shared her own chilling experiences that caused her to fear coming back to Houghton.
Angie Carter, an Assistant Professor, spoke about how professors need to educate themselves and each other because it was not the student’s job to do this. The student’s job is to learn and grow. To this end, she invited professors to attend her Sociology class to learn more about racial disparities, as well as to talk to her during office hours. A few other staff members agreed with Carter.
A graduate student named Jennifer Rachel also spoke about how the university recently changed the funding model for graduate students. Before, they had plenty of tuition support via research or being a teacher’s assistant. Now that this is gone, many minority students, particularly international students, are finding it more difficult to attend Michigan Tech.
One lady voiced her concern over Michigan Tech valuing race and ethnicity over academic talents — a concern that was shared by a few other participants. The same people also claimed that Michigan Tech was discriminating against white people.
The public comments ended with Stefani, a senator who has worked hard to promote campus diversity. Recently, she has worked especially hard to dismantle the harm that these two letters have created. In a voice strained by tears, she urged people to really think about the harm this is doing to the students, the young adults that staff and faculty are supposed to nurture and protect.
If you are interested in hearing more thoughts that people shared during this meeting, the Senate will be updating this page with the minutes, where you will find the video and important information shared.