Native Student Silenced by Michigan State University College of Law Student Bar Association for Speaking Out Against Cultural Appropriation, By Emmy ScottTweet
Coming to law school, I knew I would need to expect a certain amount of racial microaggressions due to white privilege. As a graduate from the University of North Dakota, who formerly had the Native sports logo “Fighting Sioux,” you could say I am pretty accustomed to it. I listened tacitly to one law student in my year complain about having to read Louise Erdrich’s The Round House for his Lawyer and Ethics Class. He shouted in the graduate dorm lobby sarcastically saying, “Yes, that’s exactly how I wanted to spend my weekend, reading about some Native woman being raped.” I stood in the back of an elevator while another student railed about one of the few Native law professors. The student said he could never tell when the professor was stating actual facts or bullshitting, as the professor inserted opinion into everything. I watched yet another classmate hijack a class to “argue” with the professor, who was simply explaining the Supreme Court’s logic. I laughed because what many students do not realize about these situations is how they’re realizing their inherent privilege. Being a Native student, these situations that were so bothersome to white students are an everyday reality for us- to the point where we almost become desensitized to it. Imagine if I got upset about every Supreme Court decision that did go the way I would have liked…
I currently attend Michigan State University College of Law in East Lansing, Michigan. Last year I attended with a fellow Native 3L the MSU College of Law Halloween mixer. I purchased my $5 wristband well in advance. I had worked on my costume for days and was stoked because Halloween is my favorite holiday ever. In the midst of eating snacks and good conversation, I noticed one woman on the dance floor in a typical “Pocahottie” costume. As she was most likely under the influence and I knew that if I stayed I would end up confronting her about her choice of costume, I decided it was probably best for me to leave.
This brings me to the events of October 14, 2015. I was invited by another student to this year’s Halloween mixer via Facebook. Not wanting a repeat of last year, I decided to post in the event. I posted the following meme accompanied by the text: Please don’t dress as a Native American as somebody did last year and I had to leave before I called her out on it. Friends don’t let your friends be THAT person.
I received this message in my Facebook inbox.
I issued a response and was replied to.
I was confused as to how exactly a post by me asking my law school peers to be respectful in their costume choices could be interpreted as an SBA endorsement. The gist of that message to me said that I was ruining other people’s fun by a request for respect. Other people’s fun was more important than my need to feel welcome. I am not excited because I do not find it fun when my culture is the butt of the joke. Obviously, I will not be attending the Halloween mixer this year.
The mixer is put on by MSU’s Student Bar Association. According to their website: The Student Bar Association (SBA) is the governing body of the students at Michigan State University College of Law. Through its activities, the SBA endeavors to further legal education, promote fellowship and goodwill among students, faculty and the administration, and advocate the concerns of the Law School’s students. In addition, the SBA coordinates student activities and organizations, and is charged with appropriating funds for student activities and student organizations.
Emmy Scott (Winnebago/Spokane/Arikara) is from the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska and is a first year law student at Michigan State College of Law with a passion for Indigenous rights. Twitter: @EmmyNawjoopinga