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Black MSU students share experiences with discrimination, seek changes

December 13, 2023
Junior Mikeise O. May stands by the Red Cedar River on Nov. 8, 2023, telling his story about being arrested last year.
Junior Mikeise O. May stands by the Red Cedar River on Nov. 8, 2023, telling his story about being arrested last year.

Roughly 6% of students at Michigan State University are Black and with recent racial incidents going unaddressed by university administration, Black students said they feel it has been hard to connect with groups like the Board of Trustees on campus to support and aid them in their issues.

The Black Students’ Alliance, or BSA, is an organization on campus that aims to ensure the protection and promotion of Black students through advocacy and support.

Social relations and policy junior Tayler Jones is the group's public relations chair.

When students want to share information about discrimination that they have faced, they can go to Jones first. Afterward, Jones reports the information to the group’s advisor, who can file a report through the MSU Office of Institutional Equity. As a result, Jones has spoken to many students who have experienced violent, passive-aggressive and other forms of racism

Jones and the rest of the BSA team hold meetings regularly, creating spaces for students to share their opinions and feelings about various problems they encounter to different MSU departments. She said BSA welcomes new input and perspectives.

One issue Jones said she encountered is discrimination and prejudice in academic settings. When she is the only Black student in a particular class, she feels there is a stereotype hanging over her head. Jones said she works hard, trying to not fail "in any aspect" because if she does, it makes her feel like she "represents her whole community" as someone who struggles.

Mikeise May, political science junior and event coordinator for the MSU National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he experiences the same issue as Jones: he is often the only Black person in a “vast majority” of his classes.

“I feel as if while I’m in courses and in lecture halls, I am singled out and outcast based on the difference in my background and my status,” May said

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May said he has faced discrimination while attending MSU. He said he was physically assaulted by MSUPD last year while traveling on campus, called out amongst a group of non-minorities, labeled as an aggressor, called racial slurs and physically and verbally assaulted

Michigan State University Department of Policy and Public Safety Spokesperson Dana Whyte said the incident involved individuals driving under the influence and resisting arrest. Whyte said the responding officers exercised “considerable discretion” while “respecting and encouraging” the individuals’ rights to film the interaction.

During the incident and aftermath, May said when he tried finding support, the administration did practically nothing

“MSU made it very clear that any type of legal protection cannot be assisted to anyone that had done anything that was wrongfully assumed,” May said. “It was very disappointing, that it showed more validation that students of color have no one to stick up for them or to stand strong for them without facing retaliation, or without facing backlash within the campus for advocating and vocalizing.”

Both May and Jones attended the recent town hall meeting that included BSA members, MSU NAACP, MSU trustees, university staff and other students.

May said the meeting was mainly “calling out the Board of Trustees on a lot of issues” that have been addressed and brought up by the Black community on campus.

It gave students a chance to have a safe space to speak about the recent racial incidents occurring on campus, including one that happened over the summer, where racial slurs were posted outside the Student Services Building. In addition, students could vocalize a lot of ways “they have been racially discriminated against” or views of prejudice within the campus.

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Criminal justice sophomore Devin Wilson said he experienced an act of race-based discrimination while walking from Akers Hall to McDonel Hall in October. He said a white man in a car rolled down the window, poked his head out and called him the n-word twice.

Wilson said it was his first time being called that slur and that it brought out "so many emotions." He was faced with two choices: acting and confronting the person, or “doing the right thing" and taking a picture of the plate before walking back into his building

"When you hear it, three seconds go by but it feels like an hour," Wilson said. "You know it happens, and you know it's going to happen."

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He told BSA vice president Jordan Wesson, who is also his roommate, and the BSA Advisor Jason Worley. Wesson and Worley added the incident to the plethora of reports that Black students have made to MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity about race-based discrimination on campus.

Wilson said the university is responsible for the ongoing issues Black students — and minority students in general — face on campus. He said he hopes the number of reported cases will be a wake up call to MSU to create change.

"We have all these reports that can show you there is a problem," Wilson said. "We're being discriminated against and you guys don't care."

May, like Wilson, said he holds "every department" accountable for the actions they did not take and support they did not give, but he especially holds MSUPD responsible because they “initiated the act” on him and made it clear “what their motives were."

“The lack of representation and awareness and positive promotion from the school in the orient of the African American community lacks across the spectrum,” May said.

Jones said Board of Trustees Chair Rema Vassar has been a “very good advocate” for BSA since the summer and has offered “great support” for the Black community with resources and advice

However, Jones said, change can and should happen in the near future regarding safety and resources for the Black community, and it starts with the administration.

“As a student, I feel like we need to try for more accountability and mental resources and educational resources that Black students need to graduate,” Jones said. “(Black students) don’t feel they have the educational resources to get past what they need to graduate, and I feel like that’s true as to why we have such a gap between graduation rates between Black and white students.”

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Wilson said he often feels pressure from the perception other people have of his race while on campus.

"Like I have a suit of armor, a big sign, a shield and a sword that says, 'I'm Black,'" Wilson said.

He said it feels like he has to "represent the whole Black community on (his) back."

"I want to feel regular," Wilson said. "I want to feel like a person. I'm always going to be a Black person, and I'm proud to say I'm a Black person, but the feeling of all my people on my back, everything is weighing down on me all the time."

Wilson said he wants to see non-Black people have a better understanding of Black culture. People being ignorant leads Black students feeling like they're not a part of campus, he said

"We're not treated as people, we're treated as tokens," Wilson said. "It feels like you're just talking to me trying to grab a token. I'm not a token."

In the future, May said he wants to see Black students on campus receive proper resources and acknowledgment of different issues brought to the university’s attention, including more involvement, initiative and effort from administration.

“I want them to start exhibiting alliances to preserve, rather than suppressing and oppressing us,” May said.

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