Michigamua Confronted During Initiation Week Rituals

What began as a leaked tidbit of information about the meeting time of Michigamua, Michigan’s most controversial secret honor society, ended yesterday night with nearly a dozen student activists confronting Michigamua members about their organization’s extensive history of abusing Native American culture.

Using cellular phones and a tip that Michigamua members would be meeting in the Law Quad at 7:00 PM, members of the Native American Student Association and their allies embarked on what devolved for some into a wild-goose chase through the evening’s cold drizzle.

After seeing that 7pm meeting had in fact occurred, NASA members quickly alerted friends that Michigamua was on campus, apparently conducting activities as part of their initiation week for new members. An open discussion began between when NASA members encountered Michigamua inductees congregating at the Tappan Oak, a large oak tree located between Haven Hall and the Graduate library which has historically served as a meeting point for this campus “leadership” organization.

Confused Michigamua members stood awkwardly nearby before conferring on cellular phones and apparently agreeing to meet elsewhere. Of the roughly dozen student activists present, some were surprised to discover friends and acquaintances among the group’s new members.

Meanwhile, another “secret” campus organization had activities planned for the evening, although they might prefer to be called “anonymous.” First, some history – rewind to 2000, shortly after the 37-day sit-in which evicted Michigamua from their Michigan Union headquarters, and revealed they had been flagrantly disobeying a 1989 agreement about use of Native American references and artifacts.

Phoenix Members Visit Allegedly Closed Tower

“Consistent with the principles of fairness and access expressed in the panel’s recommendations,” [Former University President Lee C.] Bollinger said in a letter to students in the affected organization, “I have decided that it is not appropriate to continue any special tenancy in the [Michigan Union] tower space for Michigamua, Phoenix and Vulcan.” …

Bollinger said the tower space is in need of renovation to conform to safety standards and regulations regarding access for the disabled. A decision about what to do with the space will be made after considering the cost of these renovations and other issues. … “ (Record: “Three student groups to be relocated”)

It was on these terms that President Bolliger evicted the “Tower Societies” from their tower, although not heisitating to provide official University office space for two years, but saying that “If they choose to apply for office and meeting space after this transitional period, they will do so as part of the general process of student space allocation.” Bollinger had acceped the reccomendations of a panel which was charged with a thorough review of allocation of office space to student groups, and who had decided every organization must apply for space every two years.

Members of the Student of Color Coalition, who had occupied the Michigan Union tower for over 30 days cried foul, alleging the allocation of office space was periphial of the central issue: the University administration’s long and deep involvement with an elitist organization founded on an ideology fundamentally offensive to minority culture students. However, it appeared that whatever the justification given, the tower space would at least be made inaccessable to all organizations equally.

Tonight, however, that decision of Lee Bollinger was apparently overturned or broken as the current inductees to the Phoenix honor society held a meeting in the space of their former headquarters in the Michigan Union.

Three independent sources have confirmed new members were told they would visit the tower, and an eyewitness even spotted new Phoenix members, whose names were recently published on this website, entering the elevators in the lobby of the Michigan Union to travel to the 4th floor, where they would climb the stairs to the tower.

The timing of this stunning hypocricy on the part of University administrators couldn’t be more opportune for the opponents of recent budget cuts at a variety of student services offices. In 2000, after the conclusion of the tower occupation, the University fired an employee of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs named Shannon Martin, allegedly for “embezzlement,” although student activists suspected it was because she was openly sympathetic and supportive of the Students of Color Coalition. At the time, the recently appointed Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper personally testified in the jury trial of Ms. Martin, although the jury would aquit Martin of all charges. (See a 10/01 letter to the Daily about Martin)

Since 2000, rumours that Royster Harper had close ties with the campus’s secret honor societies have persisted. In recent weeks, student activists drawing from a wide variety of campus communities have rallied behind an effort to reverse deep cuts in already tiny support offices, identifiying Vice President Harper as the one ultimately responsible for their plight. The group’s signature yellow t-shirts read, “Royster Cut Student Services … and all I got was this Lousy T-Shirt.”

This monday, Royster Harper participated in an unproductive negotiating session between these student leaders and University administrators.

Yesterday, Royster either failed to fulfil her charge to impliment the office space allocation policy decided on by President Bollinger and the panel he had appointed, or she decided to disobey its directive completely.

It is fully within the University’s power to seal the Tower from all student organizations. If that is what they intend to do, they should do it. However, if Phoenix is allowed to hold meetings in the tower, every student organization must also be afforded the privlidge. To do otherwise would be to revert to their policies before 2000, where select elite campus organizations can on occassion don headdresses, smoke a “peace pipe,” in their “wigwam,” decorated with birchbark and a moose’s head high atop the Michigan Union.

Last time I checked such racist and sophmoric antics have thoroughly passed out of vogue. Also, NASA has recently learned Michigamua membership is included on official university transcripts – a practice which should be abolished. The University should sever any remaining ties with the organization, including requiring its employees to renounce their membership as a condition of employment, and convert the tower into some purpose open to all students.

Read more:
> My Michigamua / Phoenix Page
> Detroit News: “Protesters call secret group’s rituals offensive”
> U Toronto Student Paper: “Secret society conquered in Ann Arbor”
> Daily: “Michigan minority student group to end 37-day occupation of student union”
> Statement from the Native American Community, February 2000
> Michigan Today: “Michigamua Protest Ends”

Author: Rob