September 25, 2017
Topic: Campus News
Members of the University of Michigan community came together Monday on the Central Campus Diag to support a graduate student who spent the entire day kneeling in front of the Block M in silent protest because, he said, "we can all be better than this."
Dana Greene Jr., a U-M graduate and current graduate student in the School of Public Health, wrote to President Mark Schlissel to explain "Why I kneel" before taking his position on the Diag about 6 a.m. Monday. He was expected to stay on the Diag for 24 hours.
"I will kneel in the Diag facing the flag in silent protest until there is nothing left in me. I am prepared to miss class and work for a simple idea. I am not kneeling in disrespect to our troops or to our country. I am kneeling because we should be better than this," Greene wrote.
"I am kneeling because I am tired of doing nothing. I am kneeling because I want this campus and this country to acknowledge a fact that I know to be true. We are not and have never lived by the idea of our founding that ALL men are created equal. I am kneeling because we are better than this."
This simple act by one student, supported by his fellow students, sparked a groundswell of support from students, faculty and staff across the campus community. Schlissel, out of town on university business, spoke with Greene on the phone to offer his support. Schlissel and Greene plan to meet Wednesday.
Later Monday in a statement, Schlissel said, "I share with many the belief that our institution and our nation do not always live up to our highest ideals, including the equal rights we hold dear. To me, the American flag represents many things, including those very rights.
"Today, one of our students began kneeling in front of the flag on our Diag to demonstrate for justice and equal rights. I support his right to engage in peaceful protest. I have spoken to the student, and we plan to meet as soon as I am back on campus. I want to work together with all our campus community to make U-M a more welcoming and inclusive place.
"I hope that despite the differences that exist here and in our nation, we can unite in the name of equality and justice for all."
Support for Greene came from all corners of the university community.
Hundreds of students and many student groups joined Greene at times throughout the day. They brought food and water and provided shelter from the heat — the high temperature in Ann Arbor Monday reached 94 degrees.
University Health Service physician Michael Corrigan stopped by to make sure Greene was getting enough fluids. Provost Martin Philbert and Victor Strecher, professor of health behavior and health education in SPH, met with Greene on the Diag. Vice President for Student Life E. Royster Harper and Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones spent much of the day on the Diag talking with Greene and others.
SPH Interim Dean Cathleen M. Connell visited the Diag along with other SPH faculty members and many others. Student Life staff members were staying with Greene overnight. The student counseling center known as CAPS provided yoga mats for the scores of kneeling students that formed a semi-circle around Greene.
Greene wrote that he was motivated to take his place on the Diag after watching "many black men take a knee during our country's national anthem to bring attention to the inequality in this country."
"During the course of the last year I have watched as anti-Muslim, anti-Black, anti-Latinx, and anti-immigrant rhetoric has raced across our campus and across our country and I can no longer stand silently by."