WMU President Dr. Edward Montgomery and vice president of marketing and strategic communications Tony Proudfoot meet after WMU's Think Big town hall event.

WMU President Edward Montgomery and Tony Proudfoot, vice president of marketing and strategic communications, meet after WMU's Think Big town hall event on Oct. 14, 2019.

Western Michigan’s Black Student Union responded Wednesday to President Edward Montgomery’s statement regarding the Feb. 19 concert, “Spirituals: From Ship to Shore.”

The concert featuring a primarily white cast has sparked an appropriation debate across campus, prompting apology demands from BSU and the Western Student Association.

In an email sent to the Office of the President, BSU denounced the president of WMU's response to the controversy, calling his statement sent to students and faculty, “propaganda that was carefully designed to keep Western Michigan University’s public image clean, protect its image of Diversity & Inclusion, and to make the situation seem smaller than it is.”

Black Student Union President Jerjuan Howard (left) and Vice President Keirra Kelly at BSU's MLK Day of service event.

Black Student Union President Jerjuan Howard (left) and Vice President Keirra Kelly at BSU's MLK Day of service event.

“President Montgomery’s response is a tactic to ease the students back to sleep and dampen their justified anger,” the statement read. “This response, at its most concrete, affirms how institutionalized this problem is.”

BSU explained how the response displays “a tale of two narratives.” One of crisis management compared to one of truth. 

“The first narrative paints a picture that the concert offered an experience that honors and celebrates African American spirituals. The University characterizes the concert’s immediate feedback as ONE student from the audience who was offended because she viewed the concert as insensitive cultural appropriation, rather than artistic appreciation.”

BSU accuses Montgomery of incorrectly characterizing the problem by addressing only one student who had a problem with the performance. The statement explains how hundreds of students and some performers responded with discomfort.

“In essence, President Montgomery’s response fails to address the fact that the concert was supposed to be a “learning experience,” yet the performers only received three 50-minute sessions to learn the history of these negro spirituals,” the statement read. “For educational context, 20 percent of Africans died on their “journey” from ship to shore, between approximately 1555 and the 1800s. While in those ships our ancestors were layered on top of each other, in chains. Women gave birth in pools of urine, vomit, and blood. Stripped of our ancestors’ religion, language, and culture their broken spirits cried through song. These songs are not so easy to “appreciate” when one acknowledges the background. These songs cannot be simply appropriated for performance and entertainment.”

Read the full statement below:


 

We denounce President Montgomery’s public statement, as it is propaganda that was carefully designed to keep Western Michigan University’s public image clean, protect its image of Diversity & Inclusion, and to make the situation seem smaller than it is. President Montgomery’s response is a tactic to ease the students back to sleep and dampen their justified anger. This response, at its most concrete, affirms how institutionalized this problem is.

President Montgomery’s response to the “ongoing campus controversy” is a tale of two narratives: The first narrative is textbook corporate crisis management. The second narrative is the truth.

The first narrative paints a picture that the concert offered an experience that honors and celebrates African American spirituals. The University characterizes the concert’s immediate feedback as ONE student from the audience who was offended because she viewed the concert as insensitive cultural appropriation, rather than artistic appreciation.

The second narrative is the truth. The truth is that the concert was performed in front of a white-majority audience. In turn, the responses honoring and celebrating the spirituals were not delivered by black people, the precise group of people being represented. The truth is that hundreds of students (and some performers) from all cultural backgrounds responded with similar discomfort immediately following the performance, not just the one student as President Montgomery stated in his email response to the campus community.

In essence, President Montgomery’s response fails to address the fact that the concert was supposed to be a “learning experience,” yet the performers only received three 50-minute sessions to learn the history of these negro spirituals. For educational context, 20 percent of Africans died on their “journey” from ship to shore, between approximately 1555 and the 1800s. While in those ships our ancestors were layered on top of each other, in chains. Women gave birth in pools of urine, vomit, and blood. Stripped of our ancestors’ religion, language, and culture their broken spirits cried through song. These songs are not so easy to “appreciate” when one acknowledges the background. These songs cannot be simply appropriated for performance and entertainment.

The administration prefers to do crisis management rather than building systems of communication and policies that stop these “ongoing campus controversies.” We will not allow this administration to trivialize this with another PR campaign."


 

Editor's note: This is an ongoing story. To read more from this story, click here.

(1) comment

memo

The black people on campus could have thanked the white choir for singing spirituals and honoring black culture. Instead they turn this in a way to attack white people. I sense black hatred of white people. The entire cultural appropriation propaganda is absurd. I recommend people read https://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2019/09/thoughts_of_a_hungry_but_woke_white_man.html

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