Today I write to you with a heavy heart. As the incoming Director of the Latina/o Studies Program, I have seen first hand a renewed sense of purpose and excitement among Latina/o students, faculty and staff. It seems that we are coming together in generative and supportive ways, and that is very heartening. At the same time, we come together in a social, political, and cultural context that is shadowed by hate, intolerance, and bigotry.
Just last week, incoming Latinx students and their families were subjected to an event that is symptomatic of these troubled times. They were taking part in one of the best programs at UM, Assisting Latina/os to Maximize Achievement (ALMA) a student-run orientation program that Latina/o Studies has supported for many years. One of their activities was to paint "the rock" (on Washtenaw and Hill) a tradition that students have participated in for generations. This was an important symbolic gesture, meant to convey to them through that time honored space-marking act, that they too belonged here. Unfortunately, overnight someone (or a group of people) decided to send a different message to these incoming freshmen: they covered ALMA's message with white paint and the words: F**** Latinos and MAGA (Make America Great Again).
This event reminds us that no matter how often University administrators champion diversity, there are still individuals and groups on campus and off who would prefer that we not exist, indeed who believe that "Making America Great Again" requires removing all those who do not fit with their understanding of what "America" is.
Though dispiriting and depressing, this incident also reminds us of the importance of our teaching, scholarship, and advocacy, and why, in the words of our colleague William A. Calvo-Quiros, "our physical presence (as individuals and as organizations) is so important for social change." He like, me, and many other faculty, staff, and grad students, participated in ALMA events last week. And so I leave you with his touching and hopeful words about the events: "Despite everything, this tragedy cannot take away the beautiful sight we witnessed during the panels and the lunch. A room full of new Latinx students eager to learn, ready to embrace the unknown, full of energy and pride for who they are. But, also a room full of many exceptional and brave faculty and staff, one after another describing all the amazing work they are doing, and how despite the difficulties they keep moving forward changing the world around them, one step at a time."
We will continue moving forward, taking those steps, one at a time, until we arrive at a place in which every individual regardless of their race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, religion or physical ability can feel as if they truly belong at the University of Michigan. It is what we do, it is what we have always done.