EMU investigating allegations of racism where off-campus students were dressed as Native Americans

YPSILANTI, Mich. (WXYZ) - Eastern Michigan University is investigating allegations of racism after more than a dozen students dressed in Native American garb were involved in an altercation with a man who confronted them about their behavior.

It happened last Saturday at an off-campus residence on Ballard St.

Nathan Phillips tells 7 Action News he was walking in the neighborhood when he came upon a loud college party that seemed harmless enough.

“About the same time I noticed them, some of them noticed me and waved me over,” Phillips said.

When he approached closer, he saw about 30 to 40 students partying and noticed that about half of them were wearing “Redface” and sporting feathered headpieces.

Phillips asked the students what they were doing. They told him they were honoring Native Americans and told Phillips, “We’re the F-ing Hurons!” EMU’s nickname used to be the Hurons before the university changed it to the Eagles in the ‘90s.

Phillips responded, “This isn’t honoring us, this is racist. And as soon as I said ‘racist,' it turned from honoring the Indians to, ‘Go back to the reservation, you F-ing Indian, get the F out of here.’"

In the scuffle, someone threw a beer can at Phillips.

“It was a tough thing to see,” he said.

“It’s highly offensive,” said Michelle Lietz, vice president of the Native American Student Organization at EMU. She learned about the incident on Facebook and said her organization worked all week to get university officials to address it.

EMU Spokesman Geoff Larcom provided a statement emailed to students and faculty:

Officials at Eastern Michigan University became aware on Sunday, April 12, 2015 that a party took place the previous afternoon at an off-campus location on Hamilton Street. It was reported that some of those in attendance at the party were EMU students dressed as Native Americans. It was further reported that the group had an altercation with a member of the community who, upon witnessing the students, expressed offense regarding their dress and behavior.

Eastern Michigan University immediately initiated a full investigation of the incident. University officials have also met with EMU students who have expressed their strong concerns about the incident.

Eastern Michigan University takes these matters very seriously and remains strongly committed to maintaining a respectful, inclusive and safe environment, in which acts that seek to inflict physical, psychological or emotional harm on specific demographic groups will not be tolerated.

The investigation into this matter is ongoing, and will be guided by the University’s policies and procedures that govern student conduct.

Residents at the Ballard St. address Friday night told 7 Action News none of them were at Saturday’s party and declined to comment.

As Ypsilanti police and EMU police continue to investigate, members of the Native American community say they hope the incident sparks an important, open dialogue about race and respect.

Michelle Lietz said, “It’s a great opportunity for them to finally come out and condemn this sort of behavior.”

“We can’t be the invisible American anymore,” Phillips said.

Lietz said EMU police have identified at least three of the individuals involved in the altercation, but have not identified which organization they belong to.

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