Last Tuesday, March 18, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality presented a resolution to their Central Student Government urging the University of Michigan to divest from unethical multinational corporations complicit in Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and violation of international human rights laws. The four targeted companies include Caterpillar, General Electric, Heidelberg Cement and United Technologies.
Over 250 students attended the meeting in support of the resolution, which was co-signed by 36 student organizations. The student government representatives voted 21-15-1 (yes-no-abstain) to table the resolution indefinitely, therefore no debate or a vote on the resolution itself proceeded.
The crowd of supporters collectively chanted "divest" followed by the student government body leaving the room to relocate. The crowd continued the protest on the steps of the Union and opened a platform for students to share their reactions.
Members of #UMDivest were frustrated that CSG representatives made the excuse of not knowing enough about divestment to make a well-educated vote, despite the multiple invitations sent to representatives to attend teach-ins and speaker events. The representatives also invalidated the Palestinian narratives that were shared by accusing the resolution of being "too divisive" and "out of the scope of our University."
Omar Hasan, a Palestinian American student, says, "On Tuesday night, as a student of the University of Michigan I was shut out. My voice was silenced and my Palestinian identity was not recognized. I placed myself in a vulnerable position when I gave my own Palestinian narrative and was triggered after the CSG tabled the resolution indefinitely because the student representatives delegitimized my livelihood. Everyone on this campus deserves for their voice to be heard!"
On Wednesday, in response to silencing the Palestinian narratives that were shared and shutting out those who favored the resolution, students and allies of the #UMDivest movement occupied the CSG office, staging an "indefinite" sit-in. Supporters of #UMDivest vowed to continue this peaceful protest until CSG took responsibility for failing to democratically fulfill its role as representatives of the student body. The sit in demanded CSG fully adhere to our Call for Accountability, which includes repealing the decision to postpone the presentation of the divestment resolution indefinitely.
During the sit in, the CSG office was recreated, embodying a safe space for students on campus who have felt unwelcome due to CSG's actions and the aftermath of its implications. Students visibly identifiable as Arab or Muslim have been threatened and targeted with anti-Arab racism and Islamophobic rhetoric. Some have been victims of verbal and physical abuse, slander, as well as cyberbullying. Students have also noted a change in campus climate, stating that they feel unsafe walking alone on campus or too anxious to enter classrooms, receiving strange glares and feeling unwelcome.
Palestinian American student Sami Shalabi says, "When the resolution was voted to be tabled indefinitely my voice as a student was censored and shutout. I was dehumanized, felt unsafe, and was disregarded by my own student body. We felt we needed a safe space to be, so we occupied CSG headquarters. For the past six days, this space has served as the only safe place on campus because our university representatives and administrators have failed to foster a secure environment for us."
Student organizers of the #UMDivest movement have met several times with CSG President Michael Proppe to agree to the Calls of Accountability, however, he has addressed the sit-in body at large only twice in the past seven days. When Proppe entered the space he did not apologize for silencing students at the meeting and rather focused on "regretting CSG's decision to postpone." Additionally, it took Vice President Bobby Dishell five days to enter our space to hear students concerns.
Demands have also been made from the administration to make concrete changes for the students directly affected by the #UMDivest movement. Students want to physically see action taken with tangible results rather than blanketed verbal agreements. Meetings with the administrators have focused around demanding the administration to issue a public statement addressing the hostile campus climate and that the sit-in is in fact a nonviolent grassroots movement that condemns any hateful or racist behavior within the space as well as outside it.
Additionally, Arab students have called for an Arab student lounge at the University named after the late Palestinian American scholar Edward Said, in order to create a safe space on campus for students of Arab background and descent. Currently, Arab students are at a disadvantage at the University with no dedicated space entitled to them directly.
When any demands were insufficiently met, students at the sit-in space collectively staged an action after building closing hours. The administration made no accommodations for the students to continue the sit-in after hours after repeated requests from the organizers, ensuring that the facilities would remain respected and clean.
On Thursday night, March 20, students demanded to occupy the space overnight until the first demand was met. Both University and Ann Arbor police threatened students with arrest if they did not leave the building at 2 a.m. closing time since they would be considered trespassing after hours. When police warned students to leave, we responded with "We want the University to divest." After a final arrest threat, students left the building at 3:30 a.m. with arms chained together.
People of color mobilizing in a small space were criminalized for simply disrupting the status quo despite the sit-in's completely peaceful nature. Participants of the sit-in were demonized and threatened by not only police, but also by administrators as well for not taking further steps in preventing racialized altercation with police. Time and again, Arab students are disappointed with the administration for not taking full accountability for their failed actions in not making campus an inclusive and safe space for all students from different backgrounds.
This Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m., CSG will be meeting again to vote to repeal the divestment resolution followed by a debate and vote on the article.
Follow the movement through #UMDivest and #UMDivestSitIn.
Follow Bayan Founas on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ThatAlgerian