Statement on protest language

Jan. 31, 2023

At the University of Michigan, we care deeply about any member of the university community who experiences fear, threat, or devaluation. Often this happens through the language others choose to express their viewpoints.

Language can be both used and understood differently depending on the lived histories, experiences and perspectives of those using and hearing the language. It also is the case that language can do harm, in both intended and unintended ways.

The use of language and its impacts for different communities is at the heart of concerns over the Jan. 12 student protest against U.S. government policies toward Israel that took place on our campus during a visit by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

It is clear that many within and outside our university community heard certain chants as antisemitic. We understand that perspective and thank those individuals for sharing their views, especially during this time in our nation’s history when there has been a rise of antisemitic speech and violence.

At U-M all student protesters are expected to adhere to public safety procedures, but university policy does not – and should not – dictate or control the ability of students to protest or the content of their protest messages.

One of our most important values as an institution – one we teach and model in and out of the classroom and one that is embodied in our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion – is the respect for those who have different opinions, have different life experiences, hold different world views.

Also, our university freedom of speech policy says, in part, that the “expression of diverse points of view is of the highest importance, not only for those who espouse a cause or position and then defend it, but also for those who hear and pass judgment on that defense.”

As an institution, it is our responsibility to lead and collaborate with our campus community in engagement and educational efforts around the rights and privileges of free speech. This includes engaging our community members in considering how language can cause harm and ways to exercise their own free speech rights in response to speech they find challenging or disturbing.

At the University of Michigan, it is essential that we don’t just condemn, yell and denounce, but that we talk, teach and empower.

Such action also is consistent with our developmental approach to supporting students’ learning and identity development, which promotes student voice, empowerment and feelings of inclusion.

Additionally, university leaders are committed to working with our campus community on more ways to illuminate the university’s deeply ingrained support of free speech while emphasizing how these values also support the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Student support services:

Campus Climate Support team: The university engages with and supports any student who reports being negatively impacted by campus climate concerns through the Campus Climate Support staff in the Dean of Students Office.

Counseling and Psychological Services, the primary student counseling center, stands ready to respond to students’ needs.

Faculty and staff are urged to reach out to the Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office or the Michigan Medicine Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience.