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A Call to End the Michigan Ambassadors Program

September 8, 2020

We, the Black Student Union (BSU), the United Asian American Organizations Executive Board (UAAO), La Casa, and the Arab Student Association E-Board (ASA) are calling for an end to the Michigan Ambassadors Program. We demand an intentional, genuine inclusion of our organizations prior to future Student Life decisions. BSU, UAAO, La Casa, and ASA believe the reasons listed below justify an end to the Michigan Ambassadors Program.

Student Life did not consult BSU, UAAO, La Casa, and ASA in the creation and implementation of the Michigan Ambassadors Program.

While the University called our organizations into meetings to discuss policing policies on campus, they did not genuinely give us the opportunity to weigh in on decisions that deeply impact the campus community and disproportionately affect Black and Brown students. On July 1st and July 21st, 2020, Central Student Government (CSG) invited BSU, UAAO, La Casa, and ASA, to discuss policing on campus. CSG used public health concerns to justify their plans to increase police presence on campus and informed our organizations of their flawed plan to protect students of color. This culminated in the creation of a voluntary address directory where organizations could submit their residential addresses to AAPD. CSG claimed that AAPD would forward complaints of gatherings to the contact point of those organizations if there was a disturbance at an affiliated address, and that contact point would have 45 minutes to see the notification and break up the party, before AAPD showed up. BSU, UAAO, La Casa, and ASA took concern with CSG’s plan because it did not genuinely protect the communities we serve. After this meeting, BSU, UAAO, La Casa, ASA began to draft our own proposals in order to prioritize our communities’ safety. There was no further communication between CSG, BSU, UAAO, La Casa, ASA.

However, before receiving the opportunity to release our own program, on August 17th, 2020, Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones presented the Wolverine Culture of Care Ambassador program to the Ann Arbor City Council. Dean Jones gave the Ann Arbor City Council three days' notice before the program’s expected launch date. On August 20th, the Ann Arbor Police Department Twitter account posted an announcement informing both their followers and the Ann Arbor community of the formation of canvassing teams, omitting the program’s formal name. Two hours later, the Michigan Daily published an article detailing AAPD and Student Life’s ambassador program. On August 21st, Student Life sent out a newsletter that mentioned the launch of the Michigan Ambassadors Program and the opt-in registry.

We were blindsided by the University’s announcement of the Michigan Ambassadors Program before we were able to contribute any of our knowledge. Our organizations were clearly not at the decision-making tables that led to the Michigan Ambassadors Program, and thus were not consulted meaningfully.

Student Life did not provide the Michigan Ambassadors with bias and/or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training.

The University did not disclose who, why, or how it chose its initial canvassers to enforce COVID-19 guidelines. While these canvassers may not harbor any prejudice, there cannot be assurance due to the aforementioned lack of communication and the available training modules, (that includes public health information related to COVID-19, a basic orientation to the Ambassador program, conflict resolution and de-escalation skills, and bystander intervention skills). Given the canvassing role of the Michigan Ambassadors, it is inappropriate that the Michigan Ambassador training did not address biases, especially with the harm of policing disproportionately marginalizing race, gender, and other identities. Without modules appropriately ensuring that ambassadors have a solid understanding of racial bias, gender bias, and broader DEI topics, Student Life puts students of color in danger.

The Michigan Ambassadors Program relies on the use of Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) and Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) officers.

Michigan Ambassadors Program canvassing teams rely on AAPD and DPSS, which build upon a historical legacy of police harming communities of color, despite President Schlissel’s claims that the Michigan Ambassadors Program utilizes peer-to-peer accountability “to reduce the need for law enforcement.” Moreover, Michigan Ambassador Program’s use of Community Engagement Officers from DPSS further weaponizes existing power dynamics to substantiate warnings from its canvassing groups. The University of Michigan cannot cultivate an inclusive campus community while perpetuating an antithetical dynamic that gives a select group of students undue power over their peers, allowing hateful attitudes and feelings of superiority to fester within canvassers.

The deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Dijon Kizzee, Deon Kay, near-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake, and countless others build on this legacy of police distrust and cannot be overlooked in promoting public health and safety.

BSU, UAAO, La Casa, and ASA demand the University of Michigan respond to these tangible action items in order to address the needs of students of color:

1. If the University of Michigan, AAPD, and DPSS are to create a system of peer-to-peer accountability (as emphasized by President Schlissel), then the University must hold itself to the same standard of accountability. To achieve institutional accountability, U-M Student Life, AAPD, and DPSS must be transparent and public about:

  1. who is responsible for the creation and implementation of the ambassador program.

  2. how Student Life recruited and selected ambassadors.

  3. the relationship between the Michigan Ambassadors Program and AAPD.

  4. which University offices are the ambassadors' point of contact.

2. If the University, AAPD, and DPSS are to create a system that’s dedicated to, as Student Life puts it, “facilitating student learning and the development of the whole student while cultivating a diverse and inclusive campus community,” then Student Life must forefront the voices of students of color to have jurisdiction over policing on campus. U-M Student Life must commit to intentional, genuine inclusion of our organizations prior to any decision regarding campus safety and communication regarding policing on campus.

  1. decision regarding campus safety.

  2. communication regarding policing on campus.

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