Michigan State professor apologizes for survey criticized as racist

Published: Oct. 23, 2019 at 11:55 AM EDT
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A Michigan State University professor is apologizing for sending out a survey filled with racial slurs and obscenities to random students.

The professor said the survey was an experiment, but that's not good enough for many of the students who were surprised to find it in their email.

Students said they were hurt and upset by the questions listed in the survey, but the professor in charge of the survey said the idea wasn't to upset anyone.

"This was in no way, shape or form the intent the intent was to uncover these messages and shed the light that these messages do unfortunately exist in the real world," said Saleem Alhabash, associate professor of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations Department.

Professor Alhabash said he and some of his students created the survey so they could study social reaction to the offensive words and phrases. They included more than 100 racial slurs and vulgarities sent to random students.

"The survey randomly selected 30 of those to participants to evaluate so there is no way for us to tell which participant got what or what level of intensity," Alhabash said.

If the professor was looking for a reaction, he got several and none of them were positive.

"I was shocked. I was sad, afraid," said Mya Jones, a junior at MSU. "It's affecting the black community in such a negative way and it's making us feel as though we do not have a place on campus."

Professor Alhabash said he's aware of how the survey affected the community and he apologized for it.

"If we come to the table with an open heart with the willingness to listen, to empathize and sympathize with one another, then we'll be able to actually reflect on the reality but also move forward," Alhabash said.

The professor also said he followed MSU standards and added a disclaimer so students knew the survey would be offensive.

A peaceful protest has been scheduled for October 27 at 11 a.m. at the Hannah Administration Building.

WILX reached out to the school's spokesperson for a response and still have not heard back.

MSU President Samuel Stanley did release a letter regarding the incident, which can be read down below:
Dear Spartans, Our community has been affected in the past several days by incidents causing concern and anger. I, too, am concerned, because a safe, inclusive and respectful campus is my top priority. Hate has no home at Michigan State. We want every individual to feel welcomed, valued and heard. Recently the greater campus community has experienced vandalism at MSU Hillel, our center for Jewish student life; the presence of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on campus last week for a presentation to a class; an instance of racial bias reported from Bryan Hall over the weekend; and a survey in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences that offended students. Some of these actions may not have grown from negative intent or malice, but it’s important for us all to remember the difference between intent and impact. Regardless of intent, there is still an impact being felt across campus. These situations have disrupted a sense of safety that should exist for everyone. Building inclusive communities is at the core of our values, and the impact of recent events cannot be underestimated. I want to personally let you know the concerns of our campus community are being taken seriously. Investigations by both the MSU Police Department and our Office of Institutional Equity are taking place, and we are providing support to those who are affected. We will be responsive to these issues and will not ignore the effect they are having on our community. It is important to hold ourselves accountable for being respectful, culturally sensitive and informed. Any member of the MSU community found responsible for a bias incident will face disciplinary action in accordance with university policies. Tonight, the Black Student Alliance is hosting a community forum in collaboration with the Associated Students of MSU to discuss some of these issues and their impact. Having a forum for discussion and listening is important if we want to create change. In the coming months, I will continue to work with students and others in the campus community as we undergo a strategic planning process, including an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. Your feedback will be critical to this plan moving forward. I want all Spartans to reach their full potential, educationally and professionally. That starts with an inclusive, safe environment here at MSU. We all have purpose in being here, and we need to engage one another with dignity and respect. Sincerely, Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. President