DEARBORN — The University of Michigan posted an immediate apology following backlash over a non-POC virtual cafe event.
The flyer for the event called it a, “Non-POC (Person Of Color) Cafe” as a “space for students that do not identify as persons of color to gather and discuss their experience as students on campus and as non-POC in the world.”
The event was scheduled by The Center for Social Justice and Inclusion and was scheduled via Zoom for Sept. 8.
After severe social media backlash, the Office of External Affairs posted a statement on the University’s website on Sept. 9, while the advertisement for the event was immediately removed.
“UM-Dearborn sincerely regrets the terms used to describe the ‘cafe’ events held on September 8,” the post said. “The terms used to describe these virtual events and the descriptions themselves were not clear and not reflective of the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The post also said that the Center for Social Justice and Inclusion was just trying to find ways of bringing people together.
“As campus activities continue to operate in a predominantly remote capacity due to COVID-19, our Center for Social Justice and Inclusion has looked to develop virtual spaces that allow for these important conversations to continue,” it said. “The ‘cafes’ were virtual open conversations developed to allow students the opportunity to connect to process current events, share their experiences related to race, share knowledge and resources and brainstorm solutions.
“The original intent was to provide students from marginalized communities a space that allowed them to exist freely without having to normalize their lives and experiences, while also providing students that do not identify as persons of color the opportunity to deepen their understanding of race and racism without harming or relying on students of color to educate them.”
Chancellor Domenico Grasso made an additional post on Sept. 10 to the university’s website, saying that U of M-Dearborn is committed to inclusion.
“The University of Michigan-Dearborn has historically demonstrated a commitment to being a welcoming, respectful and inclusive campus,” the post said. “The university is resolved to continuing that pursuit and has demonstrated evidence of that commitment.
“We don’t shy away from difficult, yet necessary, discussions and debates on a variety of issues that impact our campus, region, country and the world. However, earlier this week, we made a mistake that was a significant misstep resulting in harm and pain within our community and beyond.”
The post also said that while the Non-POC cafe was advertised, a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) cafe was also advertised, but done so poorly.
“The framing and presentation of the purpose and intended outcomes of these events were poorly conceived and executed,” it said. “As a result, our community is hurting. Our opportunity to create meaningful and consequential conversation was lost. But we remain steadfast in our ability to listen and learn.”
As a result of this event, Grasso’s post went on to say that all future events will reflect the university’s core values.
“To be sure, this is a painful and upsetting episode, and one that does not reflect the University of Michigan-Dearborn as we know it,” it said. “I also know that we are resilient. And I am determined to not let this mistake deter us from promoting a respectful, welcoming and inclusive campus environment for everyone.
“Nor will we, as a community of scholars of higher learning, shy away from discussing uncomfortable or controversial ideas. What we can, and must, do is learn from this and continue fostering a better, more equitable society for everyone. Please accept my commitment to ensuring a lapse like this does not happen again.”