University Of Michigan Weighs How To Handle Student Concerns Post Election
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Since the election, people who run colleges have a challenge. How do you deal with students who are worried about Donald Trump's election victory but not take sides? At the University of Michigan, the school's president joined a post-election vigil and was critical of Trump's campaign. Then conservative students at the University sent under a petition saying the school was making students, quote, "feel ashamed for voting for Donald Trump." I talked about this with the university president, Mark Schlissel. Thanks for being with us.
MARK SCHLISSEL: Oh, you're very welcome. It's a pleasure.
MCEVERS: The day after Election Day, you went to this vigil and said to students, quote, "90 percent of you rejected the kind of hate and fractiousness and longing for some idealized version of a non-existent yesterday that was expressed during the campaign." Why take such a strong stance?
SCHLISSEL: Well, the rally I was invited to the night after the election was organized by students, and the purpose of the rally, the students told me, was to show support for one another in a context where many of them felt threatened. I don't think they were scared and driven by politics. I think they were scared and threatened by a discourse through the election season that involved racism and misogyny and xenophobia, Islamophobia.
So I really felt my role as the leader of the community was to stand up for our community's values, and I think those values are actually shared by Democrats and Republicans and by people who voted for all different folks in the election.
MCEVERS: You did say, 90 percent of you rejected hate and fractiousness. I mean I guess people who hear that think, well, 10 percent of us voted for hate and fractiousness.
SCHLISSEL: Well, no, I think what that says is at least 90 percent of people probably do not have those hateful, racist ideas. I did not at all mean to suggest that everybody who voted for the president-elect is of that mindset.
You know, the context is a rally of perhaps a thousand students, many of whom were students of color but also members of many and perhaps every other identity group, all of whom were in a moment of anxiety and feeling threatened. And my intention was to show them that the vast majority, if not all, of their fellow classmates actually do support the diverse and inclusive nature of our community and our value system. So I just didn't want them to feel as if the whole world was against them.
MCEVERS: I want to go back to the students who voted for Donald Trump for a second. Since that vigil and since this kind of controversy bubbled up, have you tried to reach out and talk to some of those students?
SCHLISSEL: Yeah, I certainly have. And I think one of the things they pointed out which I've come to realize through this political season if not beforehand - that universities in general and my university in particular really has to reach out and find ways to engage more with a broader array of ideas and political thought.
MCEVERS: What can a university do better?
SCHLISSEL: Well, I think we have to be more proactive in the people we invite to come and speak in school. I think we also at the faculty level have to model this behavior of having people that really truly disagree with one another be able to discuss those beliefs with one another at the level of discussion and argument and not at the level of, you know, personal attack so that our students can learn how to do that, too.
MCEVERS: Some students have had some very real concerns about harassment and safety after the election. One Muslim student said a man threatened her off-campus and said if she didn't take off her hijab, he would light her on fire. The police and school consider this a hate crime. How is the university protecting students?
SCHLISSEL: Well, you know, we feel an enormous responsibility for the physical safety of everybody in our community, and we're trying to be vigilant. You know, we're encouraging students to report episodes of this type. We're investigating them thoroughly. We're adjusting the way we patrol an endeavor to protect the campus in light of the episodes that we've learned about.
MCEVERS: Mark Schlissel, president of the University of Michigan, thank you very much.
SCHLISSEL: Thank you so much. Thanks for your interest in these important issues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.