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Viewpoint: Being a black Detroiter in Ann Arbor

BY DAN GREEN

Published October 1, 2013

Ann Arbor — a college town with leafy suburban campus, beautiful skies, an old tradition and a dollop of grace — for all intents and purposes, is a haven of safety. People come here from around the world to study and to cheer on the ol' maize and blue. Being from Detroit, I had (and still have) the same aspirations as any student. But being a senior at the University and being from Detroit, I have encountered an unsettling reality, one that may be surprising to those students who routinely ask me, "How dangerous was your high school?" and "When was the last time you were shot at?"

I feel less safe in Ann Arbor than I do in Detroit.

It's not that I feel more physically threatened. There are some students who are even so nice as to walk on the opposite side of the street when they see me walking their way. I feel a more pernicious, more dangerous threat than that. I constantly feel that my identity as well as my city are in need of protection.

This year I’m finishing up my Organizational Studies major. Out of 100 students, I'm the only black man in the program. How can this be? We are the flagship public university in the state of Michigan. We are 40 minutes away from Detroit, a city with a black population of at least 80 percent. But what is our black enrollment here at Michigan? Only about 4 percent. Worse yet, black enrollment has fallen 30 percent since 2006.

Then we have the "I was a Quicken intern and I love the Wings!" Detroiters. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of Detroit on the commute from West Bloomfield, straight to Hockeytown and back to your safe haven. Often times these are the folks who went to Detroit Partnership Day that one time freshman year and feel as if they have actually accomplished something. I love DP Day, but people should realize that it’s a genesis of something bigger. Your one day of service really doesn't amount to much if you are not going to try to create bigger change from that day of service.

And what do you have left?

You have a campus that claims to be diverse, viewing the picture through a white lens, but falling pretty short of that mark.

Some may argue, “Nothing is in Detroit; what good can you really say about it?” I have seen this in so many comment sections on blogs and news sites. My family lives in Detroit. I personally take offense to this remark because it pretty much implies my family’s existence is worthless. It hurts me every time someone makes a blanket statement about Detroit because I view it as a personal attack on who I am and what has shaped me.

It’s embarrassing that the University doesn't have a bigger presence in the city of Detroit. It could help a lot in debunking the myths and challenge the stereotypes many people have of Detroit and Detroiters. The new Connector to Detroit is cool, I guess, but I have a suspicion it will be used most frequently for Red Wings game trips, which breeds the pseudo-Detroiter mentality I mentioned earlier. I never even thought of being a Detroiter as an identity until I came to college. Now, it is an identity I hold with pride to show the University that you really don’t know Detroit like you think you do.

Dan Green is an LSA senior.


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