Center for Inclusion and Diversity holds open discussion in response to the Nov. 7 Sweeney Hall incident

Small groups of Central Michigan University students, staff and faculty gathered on the lower floor of the University Center to openly discuss the Sweeney Hall incident, which occurred the night of Nov. 7. 

The Brown Bag and Discussion started just after 12 p.m. inside CMU’s Center for Inclusion and Diversity Nov. 9. The informal discussion was organized by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at CMU (NCAAP) President Australyah Coleman, NAACP Vice President Grant Williams and Collective Action for Cultural Unity (CACU) President Areauna Rogers. 

The civil discussion was in response to both the hateful words written on a whiteboard outside three women's dorm room and the responding police officer’s later comments relating his badge to the students’ skin color, said Elayashia Kendall, NAACP inclusion adviser. 

Kendall told those in attendance the room they sat in was a “safe space for all students.” 

Chicago senior Julio Velasco, a peer adviser for Multicultural Academic Student Services, said he was not surprised when he found out about the incident. 

“I have been here for four years,” Velasco said. “Something like this occurs at least one time a year.” 

Chief Diversity Officer A.T. Miller said, for many students, it brought very serious forms of racism often only seen “out in the world” to campus. 

At the forum, Coleman and Rogers reiterated NAACP’s four demands to the university, which were introduced at a Nov. 8 rally. 

The NAACP demands: 

  • CMU require all students to take a cultural course pertaining to their major or minor.
  • Cameras placed and used in hallways of residence halls.
  • A certified third party host a race and ethnicity training mandatory for all faculty, staff, students and police. 
  • A formal, public apology from the officer that responded to the incident in Sweeney Hall Nov. 7 by the end of the week.

Coleman said she would like to see the solutions to these demands in motion by the end of the month. 

Miller said he has no problem with the NAACP’s demands, stating many students are already taking a cultural course pertaining to their major and that in the fall students will be required to take two University Program courses regarding ethnicity and culture. He also said race and ethnicity training could be made more effective. 

Miller did however, have some concerns about NAACP demanding the officer to apologize publicly. He and others said giving the officer a deadline to apologize does not motivate the officer to respond sincerely. 

Miller said the Chief of Police did sit down with the women to apologize on behalf of the police department. 

Velasco said he believes the officer was trying to be genuine and considerate, but there is definitely a disconnect between CMU officers and students of color. 

“At the end of the day, (police officers) can take off their badge, take off their guns. They can go somewhere where no one knows they are a police officer,” Velasco said. “If you’re a person of color, you can’t take off your skin.” 

Miller said there is also a sense of authority a police officer has that three women of color do not. 

Rather than having the police officer publicly apologize, Miller suggested the NAACP moderate a conversational dialogue between the three women and police officer, informing him of what offended them and what he could do next time to avoid this. 

“We did learn a lesson through this about trying to be empathetic,” Miller said. “It’s like, if someone says their mom died, you don’t say, ‘Oh, I remember when my mother died.’” 

After small group discussions, each group was given a chance to share what they had discussed. 

Many groups expressed the idea that students, especially students who do not identify directly with groups affected in any circumstance of bigotry, must be taught how to effectively stand in solidarity with the groups that do. 

“(CMU) needs to start telling (prejudice students) that they may be welcome here, but their ideals violating this school’s rules against racist and sexist acts are not,” Beecher senior Kevin Wilson said.