Dozens of U-M students stage walkout in protest of university’s environmental, sexual misconduct policies

University of Michigan students participate in a walkout on Nov. 19, 2021 to demand accountability and transparency from the school on its climate and sexual misconduct policies. (Meredith Bruckner)

ANN ARBOR – A group of undergraduate students at the University of Michigan walked out of classes on Friday afternoon to protest the school’s policies on climate and sexual misconduct.

Several climate activists and survivors of sexual assault spoke at the event, demanding change from the current administration. Student groups which organized the event include Fridays for the Future Ann Arbor and Roe v. Rape, a nonprofit student organization which aims to heal survivors through activism and promote education to prevent sexual violence.

The students issued a number of demands at the rally, including that the university align with the City of Ann Arbor’s A2Zero plan, fully divest from natural gas and communicate climate goals to students with transparency.

U-M student Jacob Sendra reads a list of demands from multiple student organizations at a rally on the Diag on Nov. 19, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

“If the university wants to live up to its mission statement, they must be held accountable,” said event co-organizer Jacob Sendra. “How can they claim to serve the people of Michigan and the world and enrich the future if they are perpetuating and actively prospering from the destruction of our planet and our futures?”

The students also called for the immediate dismissal of President Mark Schlissel, Assistant Athletic Director Paul Schmidt, Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Seney and Director of the University of Michigan’s Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office Tamiko Strickman.

Two U-M students hold a sign that says "Support Survivors" at a walkout on Nov. 19, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

Survivor Emma Sandberg, a senior at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and executive director of Roe v. Rape shared her story of assault on another college campus.

“That school was not required to investigate my assault as I was not a student there and it did not take place anywhere near that campus,” she told the crowd. “They went out of their way to investigate my case because they actually cared about their community and knew that their reputation did not rely on how many perpetrators brought lawsuits against them but rather how well they addressed the issue of sexual violence.

“This stands in stark contrast with the University of Michigan. I cannot sit back and watch as my soon-to-be alma mater continues to ignore and dismiss thousands of victims of Dr. Anderson to the point where a group of them is forced to camp out in the cold in front of the president’s house to try to get his acknowledgement. I cannot just go about my daily life with stories of professors who have repeatedly harassed and assaulted their students and face no repercussions whatsoever from the current administration.”

Student Emma Sandberg addresses the crowd at a rally on the Diag on Nov. 19, 2021. (Meredith Bruckner)

Survivor of Dr. Anderson’s abuses, Jon Vaughn, was scheduled to speak at the event but had a last minute schedule change. Vaughn has been camping outside President Schlissel’s house for more than 40 days as the university and survivors of the longtime athletic doctor are currently in court-ordered mediation over the case.

Read: Anderson survivor Jon Vaughn announces run for University of Michigan regent

For its part, the university recently announced “revamped protections” for community members who report misconduct.

Sandberg criticized the university for its track record on sexual misconduct, in particular with regard to faculty in recent years who have been found guilty of sexual assault.

A sign posted at Jon Vaughn's encampment outside the president's house on S. University which pictures the late U-M doctor Robert Anderson. Anderson is accused of sexually assaulting hundreds of athletes on campus for decades. (Meredith Bruckner)

“We cannot call ourselves the leaders and best if thousands of survivors on campus are left unsupported and if their experiences are belittled and disbelieved,” she said. “We are not the leaders and best if our policies are designed to deter students from reporting and let perpetrators off the hook.

“We are certainly not the leaders and best if those in power are committing assault and sexual harassment themselves. Today, we must hold this administration accountable.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.