After #BBUM, regents vow to take action on race relations

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 21, 2013

While #BBUM trended nationally on Twitter, its message reached the University’s Board of Regents. The board heard Thursday heard from student leaders and administrators about the campaign and offered a glimpse at how they might respond.

The Being Black at the University of Michigan campaign gained momentum Tuesday as students took to Twitter to share their experience and thoughts about what it means to be Black at the University — both good and bad. Over the past two days, #BBUM — created by the Black Student Union — has been used more than 16,000 times and spread far beyond the confines of campus. National figures have responded in solidarity with the students and the hashtag has inspired a similar movement at Michigan State University, #BBMSU.

Although some administrators have already responded to the movement on Twitter, the meeting marked the first time the officials addressed the campaign in person. The official University Twitter account initially responded on Tuesday, saying administrators are listening.

During her monthly report on the Division of Student Life, E. Royster Harper, the division’s vice president, said the administration is working to address the issues brought up by the campaign.

“It’s quite an informative and robust and honest and painful conversation among the community about the experiences of African-American students,” Harper said.

Earlier in the meeting, Physics Prof. Timothy McKay gave a presentation on predicting student success at the University. The presentation included statistics demonstrating that students in less supportive environments tended to not perform to the best to their academic abilities academically. Many of the students who contributed to the BBUM discussion said they often felt isolated in their classes and with their non-Black peers.

Harper, who said she was struck by the presentation’s findings, said the administration will work toward improving the University’s focus on celebrating diversity — “the commitment that this institution has and will continue to have.”

In his monthly report to the board, CSG President Michael Proppe, a Business senior, stressed the importance of swiftly addressing the issues raised by the campaign. While briefing the board on #BBUM, Proppe acknowledged the movement brings to light an experience that the majority of University students do not have.

“This is not an experience that I will ever have,” he said. “It is not an experience that 95 percent of our student population will ever have.”

The University’s enrollment of Black undergraduates dropped from about 7 percent in 2006 to 4.65 percent in 2013.

In 2006, Michigan voters approved Proposal 2, a ban on affirmative action in higher education. Although the University has worked to create alternate recruitment programs for underrepresented minorities, the programs have not been able to stanch the decline in Black and Native American enrollment. Hispanic enrollment has fallen as a percentage of the overall student body but remained fairly constant in terms of absolute numbers since the student population has grown overall.

To improve the University’s diversity education, Proppe said LSA should change its Race and Ethnicity requirement to include classes offered by the Program on Intergroup Relations. Since eligible classes for the requirement must be at least three credits, the two-credit IGR classes do not currently qualify to fulfill the requirement.

IGR courses are intimate, student-driven classes that discuss gender, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion and sexual orientation, among other culturally relevant topics.

Proppe added that the University should continue to listen to students, as they have on the general-admission policy for football games, the Munger Residence Hall and the presidential search advisory committee — to gauge student voice and concern about diversity and related topics. Proppe added that he looks forward to working with the board to find real solutions.

“Students are tired of talking; students want to see some action,” Proppe said.

On behalf of the board, Regent Denise Ilitch (D) said the administration is working on programs to better approach problems facing diversity on campus.

Although Ilitch said the process of implementing programs may take a while, she said the board shares the same passion to solving the problems as the students.

“We’re as frustrated as the students, but we’re very committed to these topics,” Ilitch said.

The next meeting of the Board of Regents is scheduled for Dec. 19.