Michigan State University announced recently plans to offer a series of diversity training sessions for faculty and students, focusing on Islam-related subjects. The announcement came on the heels of an October 3 meeting between members of the university administration and the Muslim Student Union.
The Muslim group, in concert with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had been calling on the university to institute such training since Indrek Wichman, a professor of mechanical engineering, sent an e-mail to the Muslim students group last April, in which he called them “dissatisfied, aggressive, brutal, and uncivilized slave-trading Moslems.”
Wichman was responding to an education campaign organized by Muslim student activists in response to a journalism professor’s posting on her university Web site of the controversial Danish cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
“I intend to protest your protest,” Wichman wrote in the e-mail. “I am offended not by cartoons, but by more mundane things like beheadings of civilians.”
The Muslim Students Union made the e-mail public and was joined by 10 student groups, including the Jewish Student Union, in calling on the university to hold diversity training. It was not until late October that the university agreed to proceed.
“We’re very pleased,” said Farhan Azeez, former Muslim Students Union president and the group’s liaison to the university.
Azeez told the Forward that training sessions will be held throughout the year, and will include information about other minorities on campus. “It’s not just about Muslims,” he said. The training sessions will be optional; Michigan law prevents the university from making them mandatory.
Wichman’s e-mail came amid growing complaints of racial tension on campus. An April 18 story in the the campus newspaper reported 22 racially motivated incidents on campus last year, including racial slurs written on dormitory walls and an assault on an African American student in a dormitory. Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of CAIR, told the Forward that these incidents had contributed to a “xenophobic atmosphere” on the university’s East Lansing campus.
The Muslim students initially called on the university to professionally censure Wichman for his e-mail. Representatives of the university and the engineering department expressed regret at Wichman’s statements but said there was little they could do, because the e-mail did not violate the university’s nondiscrimination policy and was protected as free speech.
Wichman told the Forward not to expect him at the training. “I am not interested in attending at this time,” he said.