U. of Michigan Students Aim to Take Control of School's Diversity Without Affirmative Action

By Julissa Catalan

Detroit has a Black population of 83 percent and is a 45-minute drive from the University of Michigan. So how is it that the school only has 4.6 percent Black enrollment

The University of Michigan has had an ongoing struggle with its demographics for decades, but this semester, students are pushing back more than ever.

The United Coalition for Racial Justice (UCRJ) held the “Speak Out: 1,000 Strong for Racial Justice” demonstration last month, where hundreds of students, graduates, faculty and staff gatheredfor 12 hours overnight. According to the event posting on the U-M American Culture webpage, organizers sought to “protest low underrepresented minority enrollment and poor racial climate for students of color at the University of Michigan. While Provost Pollack’s recent unveiling of new U-M diversity and inclusion initiatives represents an important step forward, we must continue to pursue student-led, direct civic engagement to hold the administration accountable. To avoid repeating past mistakes, we must ensure that these new initiatives are executed transparently, with direct student participation at every phase: that the administration not only welcome our voices, but our presences at the decision table.”

Events at the protest included film screenings, student open mic and teach-in sessions. For hours, students and supporters spoke about their hopes for progression in their university, and shared first-hand accounts on being part of the underrepresented group in their own higher-education community.

Barbara Ransby, a Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has a master’s and a Ph.D. from Michigan, addressed the gathering.

“The administration on this campus [must] summon the courage to do the right thing,” she said. “It is utterly inexcusable to have a 4 percent Black representation on this campus [when you are] in driving distance of Detroit.”

As a founding member of the school’s United Coalition Against Racism, Ransby helped organize a 200-student, 24-hour sit-in that shut down the Fleming Administration Building in 1987.

Attendees took to Twitter to document the eventa method which gained national exposure last fall when the school’s Black Student Union (BSU) created the hashtag #BBUM (Being Black at University of Michigan). Students and alumni used social media to voice their frustrations over past experiences and their hopes for change. Speak Out was considered an extension of this campaign, and hoped to gain the same notoriety as its prototype.

Following the exposure gained from #BBUM, the BSU last month made multiple demands that included: housing on Central Campus for low-income students, renovations to the Trotter Multicultural Center, emergency scholarship funds for underrepresented students in need of financial support, and a 10 percent Black-student enrollment increase

U-M has responded with a $300,000 commitment to the multicultural center and a promise to relocate it to a more central location. A new leadership position is also being created specifically to recruit underrepresented students, and a residence-hall program is being implemented to foster inclusion, per The Michigan Daily.

While officials say it will be difficult to increase Black enrollment under Proposal 2, a 2006 voter ban on the use of affirmative action in public-college admissions in Michigan, students feel affirmative action is far from the only method, and U-M’s administration should be obligated to do more.

Currently, Blacks account for 4.6 percent of U-M’s undergraduate enrollment, a decline of 30 percent since 2006.

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