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Interim President Woodruff addresses concerns that MSU lacks support for marginalized students

November 10, 2023
MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff in her office during an exclusive interview with The State News on Feb. 23, 2023.
MSU Interim President Teresa Woodruff in her office during an exclusive interview with The State News on Feb. 23, 2023.

Michigan State University Interim President Teresa Woodruff responded to student concerns that there is a lack of support for marginalized student populations on campus in an email sent to students Friday. 

The email comes following several student groups on campus expressing that they do not feel adequately supported by the university. 

"Recently, we have heard rising student voices telling us we must do better," Woodruff wrote. 'These come as conflict in the Middle East polarizes communities and emboldens antisemitism and Islamophobia. Black students share feelings of isolation and safety concerns due to racist expressions and harassment on our campus."

In her statement, Woodruff emphasized what she said are MSU's values: "collaboration, equity, excellence, integrity and respect."

"This moment calls on us to demonstrate that we are a community of care and compassion," Woodruff wrote. "Our campus, after all, is many students' front and back porch, and it should always feel like a safe and welcoming home."

At a recent ASMSU meeting, members of the general assembly asked Woodruff why Palestine was not explicitly mentioned in an MSU statement addressing the Israel-Hamas war. 

Saba Saed, a Palestinian American and Vice President of the Arab Cultural Society, said at a Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 27 that not using the word Palestine or Palestinians and instead only referring to Hamas equates being pro-Palestine with being pro-Hamas. 

Students at the ASMSU meeting asked Woodruff why MSU did not release a statement about Tariq Thabet, a former MSU Humphrey Fellow who was killed along with his family on Oct. 29 by an Israeli bombing.

Woodruff did attend a community vigil this week to honor Thabet and offered her condolences to the community. 

Black student groups on campus, including the Black Students' Alliance, or BSA, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, have also expressed that they have felt a lack of support from the university in light of several instances of racial harassment. 

Since June, when a racial slur was written outside of the Student Services Building, the BSA and NAACP have been calling on the university to increase efforts to hold individuals accountable who engage in discriminatory and racist behavior. 

The groups held a walkout on Oct. 18 to protest campus discrimination.  

A statement released last week by BSA, NAACP and Michigan State Conference Youth & College Division on Nov. 2 said, "The lack of attention given by MSU officials has led to isolation, mental distress and anxiety amongst Black and Brown students who feel as though they don’t matter, nor are valued in a space that should be safe for them."

According to Woodruff's email to students, mounting antisemitism and Islamophobia, as well as Black students' "feelings of isolation" and their safety concerns "can impede MSU's priority of student success."

"All of us have a role in advancing MSU’s aspiration of creating an inclusive community in which people of all backgrounds can thrive and meet their full potential," Woodruff wrote. 

The email included a link to two webpages that address the university's role of providing support and safety for the MSU community. 

One page is labeled "Supporting Our Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and All Impacted Communities."

The page outlines efforts the university has taken to support marginalized groups, including meeting with several student groups and leading a workshop series titled Conversations on Antisemitism and Islamophobia.

One page is labeled "Supporting Black Student Success."

The page outlines how individuals can report instances of racial discrimination and how the university is working to reduce barriers to the admission process for underrepresented groups. 

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"Our aspiration to foster a more inclusive, welcoming and supportive university must be an ongoing, shared commitment," Woodruff wrote. "We are on a collective journey, and I am grateful to all for the time and energy you have invested — and will continue to invest — in this critically important work going to the heart of our shared values and the centrality of people in everything we do."

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