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University officials, BSU progress in discussions

By Claire Bryan, Daily Staff Reporter
and Yardain Amron, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 15, 2014

Since the University’s Black Student Union staged a protest on the steps of Hill Auditorium in January, student organizers and administrators have met regularly to discuss the group’s seven demands aimed at increasing equity and diversity on campus.

The University released a preliminary report Wednesday detailing concrete progress regarding the group’s demands for facility improvements and access to historical documents, but left other issues like increasing underrepresented minority enrollment and altering Race & Ethnicity requirements largely up to further study.

Discontent with the state of campus diversity and inclusion was brought to the forefront after a series of racially-charged incidents sparked the Being Black at University of Michigan Twitter campaign, which the BSU launched in November.

Black enrollment at the University has dropped from 7.2 percent to 4.65 percent since the passage of Proposal 2, the 2006 Michigan ballot proposal that banned the consideration of race in the admissions process of public institutions.

BSU representatives and administrators have met weekly since January to discuss the prospects of increasing underrepresented minority enrollment, as well as exploring the availability of emergency funds, improvements to the Trotter Multicultural Center and campus transportation.

In the release, the University addressed each of the BSU’s demands, as well as the resulting policy initiatives or changes that have resulted or are in the works.

The most prominent and controversial of the BSU’s demands called for the University increase Black student enrollment to 10 percent of the student body. Even before the consideration of race was banned under Proposal 2, Black students did not represent 10 percent of the student body.

The University often cites the challenge of convincing underrepresented minority students to enroll and not choose more highly ranked Ivy League schools which may be able to offer more competitive financial aid packages.

Beginning winter term, BSU students will assist at admissions events in an attempt to increase the number of underrepresented minority applicants. BSU students will develop a process for current students to encourage applicants to enroll at the University.

The BSU also demanded greater availability of affordable housing closer to Central Campus. Though the BSU’s original demand did not touch on transportation, the University’s initial plan to address affordable housing will focus on the availability of transportation to areas further from campus.

This spring, a pilot program will launch that provides transportation for students living in neighborhoods beyond Ann Arbor. The University created a program through the Dean of Students office where students can apply for limited funding to cover certain transportation costs. However, the release did not mention additional initiatives to improve affordable housing beyond the transportation program.

The University also emphasized its commitment to creating a new Trotter Multicultural Center on Central Campus and noted that a group has been created to begin exploring the design, programming and location for the new center.

In addition to the regular funding allocated to the Trotter Center, the University provided $300,000 announced at the end of January to make changes that will improve the building’s safety and make it more comfortable for students. Some changes are already underway.

The report also cited a new social identity and bystander intervention program set to launch in the fall, Change It Up, as a mechanism for addressing the BSU’s demand for updated Race & Ethnicity requirements. The program will engage incoming residence hall freshmen on the topic of race.

More direct changes to the Race & Ethnicity distribution requirement were not articulated, but the release noted BSU students will meet with associate deans from each school and college to further discuss potential changes to the requirements.

Additionally, after a survey determined that emergency funds for students were not exhausted for the academic year, BSU leaders determined a greater effort was needed to publicize the availability of these funds. As a result, a central website was created to provide students with contact information for emergency funding and programs in each undergraduate college.

And to address the BSU’s concerns about a perceived lack of access to historical documents related to the Black Action Movements of the 1960s, many of which are not centrally located in various archives across campus, an initial group of Bentley Historical Library documents related to student protests in the 1960s have been digitized. A long-term plan for the remaining documents is also being created.

Finally, a proposal increasing funding for the BSU was generated and is pending legal and budgetary review. The review is scheduled to be completed by June.

“We realize that these meetings with administration were only small wins,” LSA senior Geralyn Gaines, BSU secretary, wrote. “They were only the beginning. There is still a lot of work to be done on both ends. I do hope that the demands of the Black Wolverines continue to be high on the priority list for the University in order to reach the long-term goals we created together as students and members of the administration.”

Still, both sides expressed a positive outlook in regard to the progress. E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, was already looking ahead to next year.

“I’m looking forward to building on the great progress we’ve made this year and staying in dialogue with the students,” Harper said in the release. “We have identified a number of next steps and will, for example, continue our work on Trotter, the race and ethnicity class requirements and recruiting of underrepresented minority students.”

LSA junior Tyrell Collier, the speaker of the Black Student Union, lauded the process as an important step in addressing diversity on campus. Collier was unavailable for comment Tuesday evening.

“I think this movement, in all of its facets, served as a huge reality check for both University officials and the University of Michigan community at large,” Collier wrote in a release. “However, it opened the door for us to have a constructive dialogue on the challenging issues facing U-M’s campus and get to work on finding ways to alleviate these problems. Working hand-in-hand with University officials proved to be the best method for tackling tough issues facing the student body.”


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