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Michigan State students, administration, athletics react to national unrest

June 2, 2020

Many students expressed outrage and disappointment following the recent death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis that has sparked widespread unrest — including the recent police brutality protest in Lansing and a Tuesday protest in East Lansing.

“I had a roller coaster of emotions,” said theatre senior Jay Gooden, a black MSU student. “First it was anger because I felt like the officer was just going to get away with it. So, I just felt a sense of rage and anger because this has been happening for years. Even before we could see it, because of technology, think about the stuff we don't see and yet it keeps happening. I also felt sad too because his murder is all over social media. He doesn’t even get to die in peace essentially just because it’s plastered all over the internet for everybody to see”

The MSU Black Student Alliance, or BSA, released a statement about police brutality and racism on behalf of the black community, stating they were “disgusted with the events that have taken place around the world” and that they are “terrified at the thought of one of us being next.”

“The Black Community needs to hear from President Stanley,” BSA said in the statement. “There have been too many incidents of injustice in his own backyard. Earlier this summer there was a study that came out that said Black people account for 20 percent of people getting stopped by the East Lansing police while only being 8 percent of the total population in East Lansing. Students make up the majority of that and MSU said nothing. On February 9th, 2020, Uwimana Gasito, a Black man, was brutally assaulted by ELPD. MSU said nothing. Various officers have complaints of excessive force. MSU does nothing.”

Stanley later released a statement addressing the events in Minneapolis, which were the opening of a Friday webinar about reopening campus, calling the actions of Minneapolis police incomprehensible, unjust and inhumane.

“It is important, as Spartans, that we collectively understand and acknowledge the impact of racism and that the Black community is under attack in many ways right now,” Stanley said in the statement. “In addition to the recent deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others who are targeted because of their skin color, we have a global health pandemic that is powerfully and incontrovertibly revealing the inequities in our society. All of this is taking a heavy emotional toll on many of our friends, families and fellow Spartans. These events remind us that we have a responsibility to engage in the work necessary to understand we live in a diverse world and a diverse campus community, and by virtue of this we also have a responsibility to each other to respond to these injustices – acknowledge them, empathize with one another and accept each other.”

Senior Advisor to the President for Diversity Paulette Granberry Russell told The State News in February she encourages BSA to speak out about the racism in a health way and that "incidents that target them based on identity do not define them."

"I have to pay homage to my people and to my ancestors, and as a black woman raised by black women, I know nothing else,” Russell said in February. “That is how I am hard-wired.”

MSU Live On released a statement on Twitter, but was met with some backlash from students calling for more change in campus resident halls. There were several racist incidents during the fall semester that some students said they believe weren't addressed properly.

Other MSU affiliated entities, including MSU Inclusion, head football coach Mel Tucker and head basketball coach Tom Izzo, also took to social media with statements:

The MSU College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Osteopathic Medicine shared a statement on Twitter as well.

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Students also spoke out about recent events and the protests they've witnessed and participated in.

Neuroscience sophomore Sydney Miller, who is from south Minneapolis, said the protests were both peaceful and violent throughout the city since the video of George Floyd went viral on social media.

“This weekend especially, our community came together to do a lot of cleanup,” Miller said. “ We have worked to provide meals and necessities for our community members in both north and south Minneapolis that have been affected by the closing of Targets and other places to get those necessities. So, there have been a lot of pop up food banks and just massive numbers of people coming together to both mourn George Floyd and also make sure everyone in our community is accounted for.”

Once protests were organized in multiple states around the country, Gooden said he felt empowered that change was going to happen, even with the more violent protests and looting of local businesses by some protesters.

“I felt that it was justified that protests would start,” Gooden said. “When they started looting, I definitely felt for where that was coming from too, especially from people who profit off of our bodies. They’re not there to protest for us, they’re not speaking up to help our community, so I felt that it was definitely time for people to take back what has been taken from us. They take our money all the time and rely on us — we’re their main sources of income. So, it’s time for us to stop that.”

Miller said that while it is important for white people to use their privilege to help black protesters, they should be careful not to silence their voices.

“I don’t agree with white people trying to police the way black people and people of color are protesting right now,” Miller said. “I really think it’s important to support and amplify black voices and not pretend that white people know what they have gone through, especially because we benefit off of the systems that they are protesting right now. I think it’s important to support them but not speak for them because we can’t understand what they’re going through.”

Though she’s said she’s hesitant on supporting looting and other violent protests, human biology incoming freshman Sonali Joshi said she supports peaceful protests and believes people should fight for their freedom.

“The one thing that Americans try to pride themselves on is freedom,” Joshi said. “Freedom of speech, freedom of this, freedom of that. In terms of having your own personal rights, you should be able to be yourself no matter what. If you being the color of your skin is hurting somebody, then that’s on them. That’s not on you. ... It should be about someone’s character, and I’m all about fighting for somebody’s rights because nobody should have to walk through a room and feel like they can’t be themselves.”

Other than protesting, many students have taken to social media to spread awareness and donate to bailout bonds and other funds to support the movement. Joshi said she has posted on her social media every day and donated to the George Floyd fund.

Gooden said it is important to reach out to members of the black community to check in on them and how they are doing during the protests.

“While all this is happening, it was really shocking to me and really hurtful — I have friends that are not black, I have friends that aren't POC — that I can count on my hand how many of them reached out to me,” Gooden said. “I just feel like that’s completely unacceptable because your silence is your violence. Malcolm X once said that ‘A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything’ and I feel like this is the time where if people say they care about black people and that they are for the movement, they need to show it and definitely verbalize it.” 

Students said it’s important to stay educated on what is happening around them and to realize that the protests and outrage against racism are not a trend.

“If you’re going to post or you’re going to do something, make sure you support the cause,” Joshi said. “I’ve seen a lot of people posting and saying that they support, but they really don’t. My main thing is if you are going to support, educate yourself before you do take the action to help out. Educate yourself. Make sure you really do support the cause because I’ve seen a lot of kids posting and doing it because it’s the ‘trend.’ This is not a trend. This is a movement. This is a statement. Very different.”


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