Thursday, February 20, 2020

MSU students address diversity concerns during board meeting

Students spoke to the Wharton Center incident, the coronavirus, and international student rights

February 14, 2020
<p>The Board of Trustees begins their February 14 meeting. This is the first meeting of 2020. </p>

The Board of Trustees begins their February 14 meeting. This is the first meeting of 2020.

Photo by Maddie Monroe | The State News

Students spoke about diversity and inclusion at the first Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting of 2020, following a bias incident at the Wharton Center that gained national attention.

Some who spoke said they were concerned for minority students on campus. 

Jonathan Suan, a member of the Asian Pacific American Student Organization spoke to the board about the rising discrimination against Asian students because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

“As members of the MSU community continue to ignore the line between valid concerns and misconceptions ... communities continue to be discriminated against and isolated from their rightful academic and social communities for coughing, sneezing and wearing surgical facemasks, common behaviors during the cold and flu season,” Suan said. “We want our MSU community to be in solidarity with and support students' rights to live, study and engage at MSU without fear of discrimination and exclusion based on their appearance, place of origin, race, ethnicity and/or travel record.” 

A member of DreaMSU, Shiksha Sneha also spoke to the board about discrimination against undocumented students. Sneha described her experience at the Office for International Student and Scholars, or OISS. 

“Exactly two weeks ago, I was dealing with an immigration issue,” Sneha said. “I'm still dealing with it because it doesn't go away that fast. And I decided to go to OISS to talk to an advisor. After waiting for about 20 to 30 minutes, I finally got to sit down and talk to an advisor. And that was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had in my life.” 

Sneha continued by explaining to the board how her visit to OISS made her feel like she didn’t belong here, and encouraged them to reform the office. 

“Now me, an immigrant with legal documentation is feeling this way,” Sneha said. “Imagine how students who are on DACA or undocumented are feeling … Now, Michigan State can't really do anything about what's happening on a national level. But we can ensure that these students feel safe and like they belong here.” 

Additionally, Stephie Minjung Kang, with the Graduate Employees Union, said she learned after meeting with the planning and budget office that, out of $5 million collected in international student fees, only about $350,000 went towards resources for international students. 

“That's about eight percent of the entire fee,” Minjung Kang said. “Then, the other 92% of the fee goes into general funding, which was impossible to trace. If the fee is charged for international students only, why isn't at least a majority of the fees for unique services that international students need?” 

Minjung Kang asked the board to consider either using all of the money to help international students, or waive the fee entirely. 

President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. discussed in the meeting efforts the board is making to help with diversity, including the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee. He also discussed updates on the Wharton Center incident. 

“I want you to know I'm monitoring progress of the Wharton very closely as management there institutes bias training, and take steps to ensure awareness and accountability. Staff training began this week,” Stanley said. “And again, we will be on top of this. To the African American community at Michigan State, particularly the students for whom this incident has reinforced their anxiety, fear, or sense of isolation and marginalization, as I said in this letter: I hear you, as did every leader of this university.” 

The meeting ended with comments from board members, including Trustee Kelly Tebay, who was one of the only trustees to address what the students had discussed.

"Shiksha, I want to express my condolences for your experience at the OISS office," Tebay said. "And we'll definitely be looking into that, because no student should be treated that way when they're here asking for help ... And Jonathan, I just want you to know that no student on this campus should ever feel like they don't belong here. And they should never be treated that way. And I want all of our Asian students to know that we support you. And we're here for you. And please keep me informed if there's any issues that you hear about on campus. I think it's important for us to know when these things happen, so that we can do something about it."

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