U of Michigan accidentally sends email vowing commitment to advancing antisemitism

Error in campus-wide message draws scorn, is corrected shortly thereafter: ‘We clearly misstated our intentions’

An aerial view of Michigan Stadium as the sun rises on the University of Michigan campus. (University of Michigan/Flickr via JTA)
An aerial view of Michigan Stadium as the sun rises on the University of Michigan campus. (University of Michigan/Flickr via JTA)

ANN ARBOR, Michigan (JTA) — Like many American universities today, the University of Michigan wants its community to know that it is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, known as DEI.

But for Jews, an email its chief diversity officer sent today inadvertently communicated the opposite effect.

In a letter to all students, staff and faculty, Robert Sellers, the university’s Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer, said the university must “renew our commitment” to “the advancement of anti-racism, anti-ableism, anti-Semitism, gender equity and building a climate resistant to sexual misconduct.”

The inclusion of the phrase “anti-Semitism” among a list of inclusion-focused terms the college intends to “advance” immediately turned heads.

“They’re doing what now with antisemitism?” Justin Joque, a visualization librarian at the university, asked in a viral tweet. The error was clear: While “anti-Semitism” has the same prefix as the other terms, it refers to the hatred of Jews, while the others refer to efforts to combat hatred and discrimination.

The line flew around social media amid questions about how an internal university communication, which usually goes through several layers of copy-editing, could have been published with such a mistake intact.

University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the use of the term was “clearly an error.” Fitzgerald did not respond to JTA questions about the internal review and editing process for campus-wide emails.

The university sent out a correction and an apology a few hours after the initial email went out. “In our effort to communicate our commitment to advancing numerous DEI efforts, and the dismantling of anti-Semitism efforts, we clearly misstated our intentions and inadvertently suggested that we support anti-Semitism,” Sellers wrote in the follow-up. “That is the exact opposite of our intent.”

Sellers added, “On a personal level, I would like to apologize to all members of our community for this error and for the harm it has caused. As Vice Provost and Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Michigan, my personal and professional commitments to the dismantling of oppression and discrimination in all forms including anti-Semitism are at the core of who I strive to be.”

The initial email was intended to mark the recent conclusion of the university’s five-year DEI strategic plan and announce next steps the DEI department planned to take to address inequities at the university.

The error was especially glaring given that Sellers and his office had recently issued a forceful statement against antisemitism.

“I condemn antisemitism as well as all other forms of hate,” he tweeted January 21 shortly following the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue hostage crisis, in which a rabbi who was also a Michigan alum was held at gunpoint. “They are anathema to the kind of society that I want to be a part of.”

Sellers has served in his role at the university since 2016, and had previously announced plans to step down as the university’s chief diversity officer by the end of 2021, the conclusion of the strategic plan. He recently extended his tenure through this August to give the university time to find a replacement.

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