MSA takes stand on Mich. harassment

The University of Michigan’s student body president has been harassed for nearly six months by a Michigan state official.

by Cali Owings

The Minnesota Student Association is standing by the University of MichiganâÄôs student body president, who has been harassed for nearly six months by a Michigan state official.

MSA President Sarah Shook approved a letter Sunday condemning Andrew Shirvell, a Michigan assistant attorney general, for the cyber bullying and harassment he has aimed at openly gay Michigan student body president, Chris Armstrong. MSA is also sending a letter in support of Armstrong to the Michigan Student Assembly. The letters stem from a resolution forum passed Tuesday.

MSA isnâÄôt the only student government backing Armstrong. During the meeting, Shook said she had been in contact with other Big Ten student assemblies that have passed similar resolutions.

Shirvell, a University of Michigan alumnus, began his blog, “Chris Armstrong Watch,” in late April to campaign against Armstrong for being a “radical homosexual activist.” He recently made the blog private.

According to the MSA resolution, which quoted statements from ShirvellâÄôs blog, Shirvell wrote that Armstrong is “SatanâÄôs representative on the Student Assembly” and that he was recruiting students to “the cult of homosexuality.”

MSA representative Nick Saab, who wrote the letters addressing Armstrong and Shirvell, said he was appalled that a public official “finds enough time in his day to lambast and malign the name of a student.”

The issue was brought to SaabâÄôs attention by an article in The Advocate, a GLBT-interest news magazine. He later visited the blog, which he called “disgusting.”

“ItâÄôs sad because Chris Armstrong had plans and Chris Armstrong wanted to do good things for the students at the University of Michigan,” Saab said.

He said MSA is not just fighting for ArmstrongâÄôs rights. An attack on one student is an attack on all students, and it is MSAâÄôs responsibility to advocate for students.

Saab said he was careful in choosing his words to address Shirvell because he did not want the letter to come off as disrespectful.

“MSA supports the right of free speech,” he said. “But that doesnâÄôt mean we canâÄôt condemn hateful speech.”

According to an article in The Michigan Daily, Shirvell has taken a leave of absence from his position in the attorney generalâÄôs office but will face a disciplinary hearing upon his return.

Brad Krites, president of Purdue Student Government at Purdue University, said he found out about Armstrong on a LISTSERV for the Association of Big Ten Students, an organization that unites the student governments and leaders of Big Ten schools. MSA is also a member of the association.

The issue resonated with Krites because he is also a student body president.

“This is really the first time as students all of us [student body presidents] have had to open ourselves up to public scrutiny,” he said. While most student leaders come under the radar of the student newspaper, Krites said it was “frustrating” that an assistant attorney general criticized Armstrong.

The Purdue Student Senate unanimously passed the resolution Krites introduced Sept. 20. It sent a copy of its resolution to the Michigan Student Assembly to demonstrate its support.

Krites said it would have been an embarrassment if the resolution did not pass unanimously.

The MSA vote also passed unanimously, but four representatives abstained from voting.

Krites said Shirvell could have attacked Armstrong based on sexual orientation, race or even height, and the student government would have supported Armstrong.

“ItâÄôs more about the abuse of power and Shirvell using his public position to unfairly attack a student,” he said.

The Association of Big Ten Students could be making a resolution on behalf of all Big Ten schools in support of Armstrong.

Krites said it could be possible for all of the schools to formalize their support through ABTS.

“I think this is a reminder to all of us in the Big Ten that we have a lot more in common than we realize,” he said.