Birth of the Black Action Movement

BY EMILY BARTON

Published December 1, 2006

The University still struggles with maintaining diversity, but not the way it did 35 years ago.

In 1970, students and faculty were willing to go on strike until the University administration addressed the lack of diversity.

Leading that effort was a group called the Black Action Movement, which formed to advocate a more welcoming environment for minority students.

BAM asked the administration to increase minority enrollment, increase financial aid to incoming minority students and establish a Black Student Center to foster community among black students.

They hoped 10 percent of the student body would be black by 1973. They also complained that black students were still officially designated as "negro" - which, by 1970, had become an offensive term to many black students and faculty members.

In February 1970, BAM submitted a list of 12 demands to then-University President Robben Fleming, student government organizations and the University Board of Regents.

The regents denied most of their requests, although they promised to increase black enrollment to 7 percent.

At that time, black enrollment was under 5 percent. It remained below 5 percent until the late 1980s, when then-University President James Duderstadt started his Michigan Mandate initiative.

A month later, members of BAM - both students and faculty - went on strike. They said they wouldn't go to class until the administration reconsidered their demands. Many students participated in the strike, disrupting classes for more than a week.

Fleming and the group started negotiations a couple days after the strike began. By the end of March, BAM and the administration had reached an agreement that satisfied all of BAM's demands. The strike ended a few days later.

Many members of the University community criticized President Fleming for giving in to the strike, calling him soft and indecisive.

Faculty members were split on the issue. Some worried that the agreement with BAM would siphon funds from academic departments and lower admissions standards in order to increase minority enrollment. Others were angry that the administration had not asked for their input before deciding.

EMILY BARTON

- Information for this article was gathered from documents in the Bentley Historical Library.