Tuesday, April 23, 2024

MSU NAACP holds town hall with university officials, Vassar vows to continue advocating for students

March 27, 2024
Michigan State University Trustee Rema Vassar speaks at a town hall event hosted by the MSU NAACP on campus on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Vassar became emotional during her speech, apologizing to students for resigning as board chair and for the recent “upheaval” the university’s administration has experienced.
“If you are not taking any hits, then you are not doing the Lord’s work,” she said. “I just didn’t know the hits were going to come like this.”
Michigan State University Trustee Rema Vassar speaks at a town hall event hosted by the MSU NAACP on campus on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Vassar became emotional during her speech, apologizing to students for resigning as board chair and for the recent “upheaval” the university’s administration has experienced. “If you are not taking any hits, then you are not doing the Lord’s work,” she said. “I just didn’t know the hits were going to come like this.” —
Photo by Jack Armstrong | The State News

The MSU chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held a town hall meeting to discuss the resignation of trustee Rema Vassar as board chair, racially charged incidents on campus and a lack of transparency from higher administration.

In addition to students and Vassar, university officials that were present at the Tuesday night meeting in Bessey Hall included President Kevin Guskiewicz, Senior Vice President of Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore, Vice President of the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX Education Laura Rugless, and Black Faculty Staff and Administrators Association treasurer Judith Foster. MSU trustee Brianna Scott attended the town hall meeting via Zoom. 

The town hall was an opportunity for the MSU community to share its thoughts, frustrations and experiences in a format that would be recognized by higher administration. 

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Students voice concerns at a town hall event hosted by the MSU NAACP on campus on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. 

"How many times do I have to say it? Your students of color are suffering," MSU NAACP Liaison and Community Service Chair Missy Chola said at the meeting. "Your Black students are suffering. Our concerns still continue to fall on deaf ears."

Chola spoke on the many issues Black students are dealing with at MSU, including decreasing enrollment and graduation rates among Black students, along with probation rates and lack of financial aid knowledge. 

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Social work senior Missy Chola speaks to the crowd at a Michigan State University NAACP town hall meeting on MSU's campus on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Students discussed institutional racism within the university and spoke in defense of MSU trustee Rema Vassar.

Chola also said that the Board of Trustees' vote to refer Vassar to the governor for removal, which was spurred by an external investigation's findings that she breached board policies, harms student advocacy. 

“We had hoped that by having advocates on the Board of Trustees, it would make a difference," Chola said. "But you took that away from us as well, and the matter in which you did it was absolutely disgusting and appalling. In all my years, I've witnessed ... many messy institutions, but Michigan State sure takes the chaos to a whole new level."

Attendees also discussed the investigation itself and what they said was a flawed approach from the firm, Miller & Chevalier. Chola said Black students and organizations were excluded from the interview process, despite being mentioned in the report. 

"It is important to recognize that one student's perspective does not represent the experience of all Black students, and a non-Black student cannot accurately convey the challenges faced by Black students on our campus," Chola said. "This undermines the integrity and credibility of the investigation's findings. It is disheartening to see that we as students are not as united as we think and that our work is being used against us."

Vassar thanked the students for their continued support and their courage in speaking up. 

"You all can continue to amaze, inspire, lift, exhort and edify me in ways that you can never understand," Vassar said. "I came to support. I came to listen. I came to be in community."

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Michigan State University Trustee Rema Vassar listens to a speaker at a town hall event hosted by the MSU NAACP on campus on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. Several people at the event discussed institutional racism at MSU and spoke out against recent calls for Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to remove Vassar from the board.

MSU sophomore and Red Cedar Black Caucus President Jaslynn Logan said that while she enjoyed the meeting and its usefulness in allowing participants to express their opinions and concerns, she would like to see more consistency from the university and improvement of university programs. 

"I feel like the active bystander programs that they have on MSU are biased a little bit because it depends on your culture or where you're from," Logan said. "Making sure that the programs they offer limit the bias as much as possible, I feel like that will help everybody understand everyone's points."

NAACP event coordinator Mikeise May said the university officials who were present at the town hall were open to the information students provided and expressed but that it needs to be followed by action. 

"Now it's just simply gaining justice and seeing words turn into action," May said, speaking on expectations for the university. "As long as they make sure to stand on their words as well their actions to providing the solutions needed for the student body, especially the student body of color and BIPOC students, I'll feel more wholesome as an individual, and I'll feel as if this meeting was more successful than I already do."

Though Vassar is no longer the board chair, she said she will continue her work on advocating for all students as a trustee.

"You still have me," Vassar said. "I'm still going to be the same person that I've always been. I'm not going to stop fighting for you. I'm not going to stop building bridges between you and administration and faculty."

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