Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Black students protest at U-M, 2014. Image by Adam Glanzman
Photo by Adam Glanzman.
Topics: Campus Life

Being black at Michigan

By Deborah Holdship
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Sparking a dialogue

Student activism is nothing new at the University of Michigan.

The Ann Arbor campus has long been a hub of political organizing, debate, dissent, and progress on many fronts. The potent combination of youth, intelligence, and idealism gives voice to any number of causes: equal rights, voting rights, civil rights, workers’ rights, animal rights, and more. U-M students have advocated for religious freedom, peace, divestment, environmentalism, tuition equality, campus safety, and diversity. Each movement is of its time and comes with its own unique mix of speak-ins, sit-ins, teach-ins, posters, and press.

In November 2013 African American students on campus added a new element to student activism: social media. Members of the Black Student Union (BSU) launched a campus-wide Twitter campaign, #BBUM or Being Black at Michigan. The goal was to connect an otherwise decentralized community of students whose numbers had declined since passage of Proposal 2 in 2006, which effectively banned affirmative action at public institutions in Michigan. At that time, black students comprised 7 percent of the undergraduate student population; in fall 2013, that number was 4.65 percent.1

BBUM board by Adam Glanzman.

Image by Adam Glanzman.

“The black community is very fractured here, and we wanted to open the conversation to find some mutually agreeable new purpose for the BSU,” says the organization’s treasurer, Robert Greenfield. He is a junior in industrial and operations engineering. “It was about dealing with relationships and competing agendas between student groups. We wanted to unite under an outlet.”

What has happened since speaks to the nature of modern youth and the impact of social media. Though virtually connected to thousands of their peers online, many students posting to the #BBUM forum bemoaned a lack of actual connection to one other and the wider University community. The lack of critical mass had created a sense of isolation.

“The issue is the innovative way the students have used technology, specifically Twitter, to convey their day-to-day experience,” says Matthew Countryman, associate professor of history and American culture and an expert on African American social movements. “An argument against affirmative action is that it stigmatizes the beneficiaries. Therefore, if you get rid of it, minority students will be less stigmatized. The Twitter campaign shows the opposite is true: With declining numbers, stigmatization and racial tension increase.”

Within weeks of the first #BBUM tweet, the critical mass the students had been lacking began to materialize – at least in cyber space (#BBUW#ITooAmHarvard, #ITooAmOxford, among others). It was a revelation few anticipated and sparked a dialogue about diversity on university campuses everywhere. The buzzword “micro-aggression” emerged to characterize a host of offenses and injustices, from a racially themed fraternity party at U-M that parodied black culture to more subtle incidents that were difficult to articulate, but were disempowering just the same.

Carpe diem

The Black Student Union’s 7 Demands

  1. We demand the University give us an equal opportunity to implement change, the type of change that can only be completed with a full restoration of the Black Student Union’s purchasing power through an increased budget.
  2. We demand the University give us available housing on central campus for those of lower socioeconomic status at a rate in which students can afford to be a part of university life, and not just on the periphery.
  3. We demand for an opportunity to congregate and share our experiences in a new Trotter Multicultural Center located on central campus.
  4. We demand an opportunity to educate and be educated about America’s historical treatment and marginalization of groups of color through race/ethnicity requirements throughout all schools and colleges within the University.
  5. We demand for an equal opportunity to succeed with emergency scholarships for black students in need of financial support to eliminate the mental anxiety of not being able to focus on and afford the University’s academic life.
  6. We demand for increased disclosure of all documents within the Bentley Library. There should be transparency about the University and its past dealing with race relations.
  7. Lastly and most importantly, we demand an increase in black representation on this campus equal to 10 percent. 

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, leaders of the BSU seized the momentum. They staged an event outside the MLK Day keynote speech by activist Harry Belafonte, issuing a list of seven demands designed to increase minority enrollment and foster diversity on campus. Some of the demands were inspired by the seminal Black Action Movement (BAM 1) in 1970, in which the administration agreed to work toward a goal of 10 percent African American enrollment by 1973-74. That number has yet to be achieved, in part sparking BAM 2 (1975) and BAM 3 (1987).

The administration agreed to meet with black student leaders and promised short-term plans, as well as longer-term engagement and thinking around three areas they deemed required immediate attention: “improving campus climate, increasing enrollment of underrepresented minorities to the fullest extent permitted by law, and addressing issues surrounding the Trotter Multicultural Center.” While negotiations are ongoing, the University to date has committed $300,000 toward renovating Trotter.

Local, regional, and national coverage ensued, from the Detroit Free Press and The Huffington Post to The New York Times and CNN.

Social media once again played a critical role as reader comments reflected a deep schism among observers: those who applauded the students’ rights to advocate for increased diversity on campus and those who decried their methods, demands, and perceived threats.

In some cases productive dialogue addressed the meaning of a “post-racial” society, deficits in urban education, and the role of the administration in response to student protest. In others, online arguments devolved into hostile discourse. Ironically, much of the negative commentary helped the students illustrate the insidious micro-aggressions that had motivated their campaign in the first place.

Nearly two months into the movement, BSU member Shayla Scales, a senior in the BBA Program at the Ross School of Business, says she is learning from the feedback and the backlash. But she wouldn’t change anything.

“We may have deterred some [potential admits] from wanting to come to U-M right now because we exposed some ‘dirty laundry,’” she says. “But that doesn’t mean every experience we’ve had here is negative. Not at all. And I think when negotiations are done and the University can stand up and say, ‘We heard what our students wanted and we are committed to our students,’ that will attract so many more people.”

Timing is everything

The strategic timing of the BSU’s demands segued directly into Black History Month where students with varying degrees of political awareness and campus engagement were suddenly thrust together, often meeting for the first time. Dialogues and panel discussions forced them to confront a wider definition of diversity. Scales says she is now keenly aware of the “intersectionality” of multiple issues, including gender, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, and more.

“It started off as one thing and has transcended past racial lines so much since MLK Day,” she says. “What we want to see is a diverse set of thinking, and to challenge the preconceived notions of what already exists before we set foot on this campus. I believe innovation lies in the crevices of diversity. I am always trying to re-innovate myself and how I process things. I think, as people, we all should. That’s only possible when you have a diverse set of races, thinkings, religions, genders, everything.”

View LSA Today’s feature on The History of Race at Michigan, an exhibit co-sponsored by the Bentley Historical Collection, the School of Information, the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, and the Law Library.

And while members of the BSU initially advocated for changes that would benefit black students – emergency scholarships, more affordable housing – their actions could result in programs and policies that will benefit any student who qualifies, says Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones.

“The legal context and framework from which we work requires that,” she says. “So while the students are coming at this from their specific needs, there’s no pushback when we say we would want to provide this to any student in need. The work they’ve done will benefit the entire campus community. It’s clear they are committed, they love the institution, and they want to work to improve the campus climate for all students now and in the future.”

As for increasing minority enrollment and promoting diversity? A commitment to creativity in recruiting and retaining qualified candidates is required, post Prop-2, Countryman says.

“There’s a tremendous amount that is being done right now by the University in terms of community service, involvement in public schools,” he says. “That can be further expanded, and also more effectively linked to questions of recruitment. It’s important that we see those programs not simply as outreach, but as opportunities to bring those communities into engagement with U-M. That’s how you make Michigan seem like a place that people want to invest their time and effort to get to.”

Pay it forward

#BBUM board with student writing by Adam Glanzman.

Image by Adam Glanzman. (View larger image.)

Lester Spence, BA ’91/PhD ’01, associate professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University, co-authored a Detroit Free Press editorial supporting the student movement as an opportunity to “build lasting institutional change.” He also launched an online petition at moveon.org. Nearly 2,000 U-M alumni have signed the petition, demonstrating solidarity with the activists.

“I’m where I am today because of people who fought for me that didn’t even know me,” he says. “As soon as I saw what was happening, I thought ‘OK, these kids are just coming to politics for the first time.’ And this is what the BAM people fought for when I was in school: That if something like this happened again, there’d be a critical mass of black alumni who’d be there to say, ‘You know what? We can help you.’ I don’t believe in Internet activism. But in this case, the Internet creates a force multiplier, creates the potential for rich communication networks.”

Those networks are growing and getting richer by the day. Johari Shuck, BGS ’08, a PhD student at Indiana University, was conducting research at U-M’s Bentley Historical Library in the wake of the MLK Day protest. She has since connected with Spence and other alumni and has been in regular contact with Scales. Shuck’s goal is to listen and advise the students, but not impose her own agenda on the current movement. History is being made, she says.

“This movement is bigger than the students,” says Shuck. “This is not the first time this has happened here; these kids are not just flying off the handle. It’s not fair they have to take on this fight and yet they are doing it with so much poise.”

Watch a Google Hangout featuring students speaking about their experiences at U-M, Harvard, and UCLA.

Attorney Samuel McCargo, AB ’72/JD’75, of the Detroit-based firm Lewis & Munday, was a founder of the Michigan Black Law Alumni Society. He was an activist during his time on campus and says he feels “a personal sense of failure” that students in 2014 feel forced to organize and advocate for the same causes he and his peers targeted four decades ago.

“The movement starts and stops, starts and stops,” he says. “Any time I have an opportunity to participate, reconnect, and maybe help motivate a restart, I’m willing to do so.”

McCargo spoke at a campus event titled “Black Student Activism from 1970-2014″ at the invitation of his friend and former classmate William (Nick) Collins, BS ’70/PhD ’75, executive director of the Center for Educational Outreach at U-M. He also is adjunct associate professor of psychology. Collins notes a marked change between the generations, which could explain why current students felt so disconnected at the onset of their campaign.

“Some of the major legislative victories that grew out of the Civil Rights movement took place when we were going through our own rites of passage as teens,” Collins says. “So by the time we got [to U-M] there were all sorts of things ingrained in us. For our kids, those things are Facebook, Twitter. Yeah, they’ve had similar experiences that bind them together but they’re not the kind we had. They’re not the kind that emphasize social justice.”

That may be true, but together students, faculty, and alumni can use those tools to advocate for social justice and create genuine bonds, says Elizabeth James, BA ’82/MA ’84. She is a program associate in U-M’s Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, itself a product of past student activism.

“BAM did succeed in so many ways,” she says. “As faculty of color it’s important for us to be here for the students as someone they can relate to. As alumni it’s important for us to talk about our challenges honestly and share the struggles we went through.”

Down to business

Student protesters by Adam Glanzman.

Image by Adam Glanzman. (View larger image.)

The BSU leaders hope to mobilize alumni, using the online petition to build a database toward actualizing their goals beyond what the administration can do.

“We want to identify what people’s skill sets are, what companies they work for, what resources are available so we can truly leverage someone’s human capital and capabilities,” says Scales.

From privately funded scholarships, to funds that support transportation for admit visits on campus, to internships and full-time recruiting, alumni have a significant role to play in making U-M an institution that qualified (not to mention top-tier) minority students aspire to, says the BSU’s Greenfield. The key is to make diversity a specific University priority.

“We have the greatest alumni base in the world, and whatever this University publicly prioritizes in that manner, it’s going to be attended to financially by alumni in such a way that it’s outside the bounds of what Prop 2 can govern,” he says.

“Corporate social responsibility is a big trend right now and companies are begging for opportunities,” adds Scales. “So it would be nice to have our alumni set up those connections in their companies for the students who need it – any student who needs it. I think people are seeing that diversity impacts and helps everyone.”

“We’re committed to graduating civically engaged, global-minded, and thoughtful people who are going to work to change the world, so if they want to do that while they’re still students here, we certainly want to work with them in that context.” — Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones

As campus events evolve, the students are increasingly focused on follow-through, in hopes to avoid the “start-stop” pattern of the past. Greenfield says the experience has opened his eyes to the complexities and constraints of effecting change at the highest level of the University.

Countryman, who has studied social movements at Michigan from a historic perspective, is encouraged by what the activists-in-training may accomplish after graduation.

“We have very real challenges as a society, given the changes in demography of the nation, economic development, and anxieties around the future that are very real in people’s lives,” he says. “Race is part of that challenge but that’s not the only piece. There’s a whole other set of questions. It’s going to take real vigilance to maintain our commitment to equal opportunity, to the very real challenge of building a multiracial, multi-ethnic society based on mutual respect and equity. And that’s going to be very difficult. But we also know that in the University’s past, and in the nation’s past, there have been moments of real success. We have to look to those and have faith that we can actually meet these challenges.

“We’re much better off as a society when people believe in the possibility of change,” he continues. “That is the most important takeaway for those of us watching what the students are doing. They deeply believe in the institution and they deeply believe it can be made better.”

(Top featured image by Adam Glanzman.)

1The entering class of 2013 is the fourth to be admitted under the new federal demographic classification system, which requires all institutions of higher education to collect and report data on race and ethnicity in a new way. This methodology is not directly comparable to years prior to 2010; so disaggregated figures for specific races and ethnicities are not reliably comparable to earlier years, although overall totals and grouped subtotals are fairly comparable.

Deborah Holdship

Deborah Holdship

DEBORAH HOLDSHIP is the editor of Michigan Today. She joined the University in 2007 as editorial manager in the marketing communications department at the Ross School of Business, where she was editor of Dividend magazine for five years. Prior to working at Michigan, Deborah was associate director of publications at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. From 1988-2001, Deborah worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, where she was a reporter and editor at Billboard magazine and an associate editor and video producer at LAUNCH media. Follow her on Twitter: @michigantoday.

COMMENTS

  • John Wilson - 76,78

    One of the demands is related to 10% enrollment? What is the percentage of black students at the U?

    Reply

    • Huwaida Bulhan-Betts

      From what is reported above, it states that in the Fall of 2013, the black undergraduate student population at UM was 4.65%.

      Reply

    • Joanne Marbut - 1988

      14% black population in the general state of Michigan at last census; black Freshman students were 4.6% in 2013 at UM; overall as of 2012, there were 1500 black students at all levels of school per Google searches.

      Reply

  • Muneka Townds

    Thanks for speaking up and creating pathways for those to come. It’s very sad police officers are still racially profiling black students in 2014. It is very degrading you have to continue to experience it.

    Graduate 1999.

    Reply

  • Barbara Deegan - 1964,1971

    I entered U of M in 1959. My first two roommates were black–and they are still two of my best friends. Don’t count out white alumni (alumnae) when you are looking for supporters.

    Reply

    • Brenda Dancil-Jones - 1973

      Thank you for your comment.

      Reply

    • kimberly brown - 1981

      I could not agree more. This is an assignment and a goal for the ENTIRE U of M community, not just the black community. My son is currently heavily involved in the social justice and expect respect communities on campus and has reopened my eyes to the continued need for attention to black student enrollment and support. I work in a highly diverse setting where I take for granted the presence of people from all groups. It is vital to our future to make opportunities for all students to be successful. Please, please draw on the black as well as the non-black alumnae for support. We are invested as well.

      Reply

  • Kenneth Williams - SPH '81/MED '81

    Ever onward, ever upward. This chronic, centuries old issue has yet to be resolved. Use of modern methodologies needs no apology. By any means necessary!

    Reply

  • Brandon Dixon - 1998

    I just submitted my request to cancel delivery of the eNewsletter when I read this headline. UM is over the top for multicultural expectations. Quit segregating multi cultural students by drawing attention to this!! Application forms are pretty much colorless so I’m not sure why special attention needs to be made to get in. I never got in as a HS graduate with 3.8 GPA in metro Detroit. I had to get in a year after I went to MSU with a 4.0. I’m done hearing about UM money spent on inititatives like this… my kids won’t be going to UM.

    Reply

    • Brenda Dancil-Jones - 1973

      It also sounds like you’re done with learning and exploring to find out what’s really going on at U-M and the world. Glad you’re cancelling. you can continue to live in a small world and teach your children the same and they will not be able to navigate the real world.

      Reply

    • Joanne Marbut - 1988

      You’re assuming all black students have poor grades and that’s why the U isn’t admitting them.

      Reply

      • Brandon Dixon - 1998

        If it’s not acedemic performance why they are not getting admitted then why don’t we take the race question off of the application and let the cards fall where they do? I would think that those feeling at a loss because they are of a certain ethnicity would ask to remove the question rather than be treated special because of it. Maybe I don’t get it because it seems way to simple to me…

        Reply

  • Jessica Gutierrez - 2012

    I was graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint (presently graduate student and staff member as well) and I too see that although the university is in the heart of Flint the presence of the Black student is inexcusably lacking and those that are in attendance are misunderstood (due to a culture of various disparities and lack of privilege) which leads to misconceptions ranging from lack of intelligence to laziness. Staff, students, faculty, and the community need to be aware of the injustice (cultural competence is a must!) which plagues us right under our noses. Individuals also need to be presented with ways to acknowledge, address, and correct the trending problem.

    Reply

  • John Condon - 1972

    It is not clear to me whether or not the protesters are concerned about the present situation of the University being forced by law to provide only equal opportunity and abandoning the self destructive mandate of equal outcome.

    There is sadness across all segments of our society at the perception of failure by a sub-culture or race in our country which is only exasperated by institutional and other assertions that the only way to correct the reality as opposed to the perception of the failure is to reduce the emphasis on personal responsibility.

    Personal responsibility has been successful in integrating all manner of distinctions between people in this country without destroying the economic uniqueness and personal freedom that the United States has always offered. There have been many fads over the decades and centuries to try a different solution than the ones found by this country and no country of the size and diversity of the United States has enjoyed the benefits our society for the most people citizens.

    No new rhetorician has as yet re-invented the wheel.

    Reply

  • Esperanza (Andrade) Harper - Taubman, 2000

    Just wanted to comment on how proud I am of these students fighting for diversity. I am so energized by this movement across college campuses. While I am not surprised the issues around diversity and race continue to plague our society, I am impressed with the sophistication and articulation of the climate presented by so many young people. Social media was new when I was at Michigan, we mobilized with flyers and a T-Shirt that was made to show our disdain for the reverse discrimination lawsuit brought against the law school. It reads “Black at Michigan XXL”. There is a legacy of activism and with that comes support. Continue to impact change!

    Reply

  • Mary Baron - 1969

    As a graduate TA I supported the movement, teaching my students off campus. I remember going to Angell Hall to get my paycheck, my 3 year old daughter with me, black baby doll in hand. We are white. As we passed several protesting male students one exclaimed , “There’s someone who knows where it’s at”!
    An appreciation of diversity starts in the nursery.

    Reply

  • Steve Olsen - 1987

    I question the acronym picker who decided on a hastag of BBUM
    OMG

    Reply

  • Laura Lynn Vaughn Allen - 1975

    I can’t do much, but I can support your work in my heart, words and mind. I still believe in the black students, faculty and staff of Michigan as I did as a member of BAM in the early 1970s. Thank you, students, for keeping on with the struggle.

    Reply

  • Krystal Abney - LSA-BA '93; MA.ed '95

    I am a Michigan alum (twice baptized), a sibling legacy, and I bleed blue and gold.

    I preface my comments with this epigraph to indicate that my Michigan experience is one that I would not trade for anything. I am proud to wear the Michigan name, to cheer for my alma mater’s teams, to display my diplomas in a position of prominence, but there is work to do.

    It is a sad statement that these students are voicing the same concerns that we had 20 years ago. There is a sense of entitlement among some white Michigan students that black Michigan students have to prove they belong on campus. That attitude implies a certain group doesn’t belong. The result is that the students with the burden of proof feel like outcasts or “invisible” in a place that belongs just as much to them as anyone. Twenty years ago, I felt invisible.

    I think the lesson to be learned now as it was then is that we want to be recognized for what we bring to the table, not interrogated about why we are seated there in the first place.

    Reply

  • Patrick Cardiff - 1990

    1. Effectiveness/Equality: Let’s fix our education system! Let’s concentrate on helping the poor.
    2. Reparation: Europeans are still responsible. They are responsible for the First Nations’ Genocide as well.
    3. Cultural/Political: Maintaining “Differentness” means keeping the bad as well as the good.
    4. Communication: Very few people want to comment on race. The prevailing idea is that it’ll “work itself out,” but we all know the reality is more emotional. But the younger generations seem to control for race less.
    5. The Big Picture: Both sides have to listen and negotiate.

    Reply

  • David Simpson - 1966, 1968

    Nothing new in the world today. Racial based protest clouded the campus shortly after I left in 1968, it seems still to be in identical form.

    Advice for BBUM (I agree this is an awful acronym):
    Little will be accomplished by placing it all in the context of “DEMANDS”. Demands are easy to let slide into oblivion, by simply ignoring them.

    How about, as an alternative, bringing a culture of constructive, cooperative, intellectually honest, participation to the campus. Contribute. Those who set a high example attract to themselves an ability to be heard, understood, and included. Those who simply complain fade to obscurity.

    Reply

  • Jennifer Sussex - 2009

    I’m with you. Also, this is NOT a post-racial society. What academic bullshit. Yeah, it’s called further perpetuating existing discrimination by pretending it does not exist in a venerable institution with a direct responsibility to educate.

    Also,

    “We demand the University give us available housing on central campus for those of lower socioeconomic status at a rate in which students can afford to be a part of university life, and not just on the periphery.”

    Not only applicable to African Americans.

    Reply

  • Christopher Moore - 1975

    More black victim bs. This along with all the other “victim” group pandering is why I stopped giving to the UM

    Reply

    • Susan Kane - BA - 93; MILS - 98

      I guess the rest of us should be sure to double our contributions in order to make up for your loss. Thanks for the reminder.

      Reply

  • William Deubel - 1972

    A recent UofM student told me that blacks seek their own counsel. I replied, that nothing has changed since I attended.

    I’ve lived in Seattle for over 30 years. The University of Washington has probably a smaller black student population than the one at the UofM. Blacks have the same feelings of exclusion. On the other hand, Asians are over represented in the student population at the University of Washington. So, there really isn’t any fairness about racial representation.

    Aren’t there more important ways of thinking than trying to compensate for broken promises? I’m not foolish enough to believe that with greater scrutiny we can choose to become more self-reliant as a solution to the same problem.

    The reason nothing has changed at the UofM is that the attempt to rid students of the administration hierarchy was never completed in the 1960′s and seventies. And, blacks and whites still want to become the ‘best’ they can be in a good world requiring the permission of a civil society.

    Reply

  • Bill Chan - 2004

    What happened to earning it rather than demanding it?

    Reply

    • Susan Kane - BA - 93; MILS - 98

      If equality of opportunity exists, then one can earn one’s place. If there is no equality of opportunity, it makes sense to both demand an equal playing field and also earn one’s place.

      Reply

  • Jazmine Clark - 2012

    Where to even start with this, I am an alumni from the School of Art and Design with a BA in Art and Design but previously I was a transfer student from Mott Community College in Flint Michigan. I went to community college first for various reasons, primarily it was nearly free for me from the combination of need-based and merit based scholarships (TIP, michigan promise, an art competition award, full pell grant, and various others). To interrupt this chain of though for a moment, there is much about me that I’ve learned the hard way that is, more or less, not “typical” maybe, honestly there is not one word for it: I’m biracial (black/white), I have Asperger’s, I come from a single parent (mom) household, I’m pansexual, and more but well I guess these are the kinds of things that “diversity” refers to. Being in the Flint area in general, being mixed has mixed results with people depending on who assess you and in what context. Generally though, most people didn’t get much deeper than that with me. In Mott this didn’t change much, but I did quite well for myself there and made the very most of what it had to offer. I think back on the college fairs that attended Mott, various public and private universities throughout Michigan and I think even some out of state ones if my memory serves. Big ones I clearly remember are MSU, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, UofM Flint, Kettering University, Ferris State University, Grand Valley University, Northern Michigan, and a few more. I recall very clearly that University of Michigan Ann Arbor was never there. In fact, the transfer process to there was significantly more tedious than the rest just in the leg work required to get the transfer guides, to get a hold of the appropriate people, just to plan out the way into admissions. University of Michigan Flint is in close association and proximity to Mott Community College, many UofM Flint undergraduate students went to Mott to take courses there. During my two years at Mott, I was hearing about various developments between UofM Flint and the seemingly elusive UofM Ann Arbor, keys things I recall was that UofM Flint students were barred from getting student passes to foot ball games and that the UofM Flint mascot was changed from the Wolverine to something else that was not even reminiscent of the Wolverine. This all could very well seem trivial, and at face value it is, but the overwhelming impression that University of Michigan Flint students were getting was that UofM Ann Arbor was treating their institution, their eduction, as completely separate and unrelated to them. Only the name was similar. There are various reasons myself why I did not go to University of Michigan Flint but primarily it did not have the program of studies I wanted. Only University of Michigan Ann Arbor, in state, had the combination of programs I wanted for my continued undergraduate studies.

    During my intensive application process to University of Michigan Ann Arbor, there was an initiative of sorts for specifically high-achieving community college students to transfer directly in. One scholarship in particular was awarded to 10 students annually and was $5000 a year and renewable for up to four years. I was awarded this this scholarship March 2009, and that was the deal sealer for my attendance at UofM Ann Arbor. One major hurdle that was nothing short of absurd was regarding a financial aid procedure, more or less an extra step and form that is uniquely UofM ann arbor policy, that required financial information from both parents. Getting financial information from my mother was not an issue, I’ve done that since I’ve been going to college. However, getting information from my “father” was a much more complicated scenario. Long story short, there are two men in my life that somewhat fit the “father” bill but neither one was contributing anything whatsoever to my college experience nor were they ever financially responsible for my up-bringing. Frankly, my biological father is a crack-dealer and addict in the north end of Flint, and my I guess “adoptive” father signed my birth certificate then illegally emancipated me because he (well probably more his second wife) didn’t want to pay child support for a kid that wasn’t biologically his. That situation is complicated, even when I try to spell it out to people in person. I had to show up to a financial aid sort of board meeting with my mother, and with one my aunts to help her contain herself, to give them copies of court transcripts of my “adoptive” father saying essentially in a public forum, “She can’t be mine, look at her she is black.”(My mom is white, my “adoptive” father is white, my biological father is black). Luckily after that roughly one and half to two hour meeting, my financial aid eligibility was no longer questioned. I went through quite a lot those three years I was in UofM ann arbor, I was suicidal the whole time, I lost quite a bit, I tried getting into an Asperger’s support group or kind of resource and the one associated with the hospital was extremely expensive and I couldn’t afford it ($900 roughly for an intake evaluation and $50 a meeting). My experience in University of Michigan almost killed me plenty of times. The art school overall was relatively much more supportive, but I found out the hard way I could have graduated with the current degree I have a whole year earlier and avoided pulling loans for two semesters I had to withdrawal from. All it took was to re evaluate my transfer guide for the single credit I needed to graduate. I can’t count how many times I met with various advisors from three different offices to make the most out of my transfer credit. Everytime I met with them, something else from my Mott transcript could be used to fullfill a graduation requirement. After all of that, when I went back to Flint, broken, sick, fat again, on a ton of meds and counseling, I couldn’t get a minimum wage job in Flint with that degree, I applied to roughy 20 of them. Not even a call back. I will write about this and the rest of my experiences, and I will publish them, and I will make my own life for myself. This is related to this article because University of Michigan seems to pride its collective self on valuing “diversity”. However, it is my personal experience that this institution still has yet to really, fully, anticipate much less value what “diversity” really entails.

    Reply

    • Grace Gentry - current employee

      I could not agree with you more. I am an employee and I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. I have never experienced the lack of diversity anywhere else like I have at the U of M.

      Congratulations to each of you for standing up.

      Reply

  • Glen Southard - 1998

    With the exception of point 3, demanding anything is simply silly. If you want something, earn it. Encourage your younger siblings to get educated, and earn your way into the U of M. Meritocracy is the way all public universities should operate.

    Reply

  • Susan Kane - BA - 93; MILS - 98

    Detroit is a majority (super-majority) black city that is less than one hour from Ann Arbor. Come on, UM. I know there are structural issues that prevent many students of all races from being ready for college. I know that talented black students are often recruited away to even more elite schools. But … come on. You can do better.

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  • Henry Lowendorf - 1964

    Let us at least acknowledge that the white elite have had affirmative action since day one. I was privileged. Let all be so privileged. Let us at least acknowledge that equality of opportunity is rapidly diminishing today, disappearing at a rate parallel to the growth of inequality in wealth and power. Fighting back collectively, as these students are doing, is as necessary today as it was in the 1960′s when I attended UM. Never fail to lend a hand to those who seek to improve. Never give up.

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