Monday Jan. 20, the Black Student Union staged a protest demanding the University administration improve its treatment of minority groups on campus. The protest comes on the heels of an e-mail sent by Provost Martha Pollack in response to the Being Black at the University of Michigan Twitter campaign. The e-mail called for increased attention to diversity and inclusion in the University community in a direct response to the #BBUM conversations. Though the Provost’s direct address of racial inequality is a step in the right direction, the University must continue to strengthen its commitment to creating a diverse campus and an inclusive climate.
In her e-mail, Pollack discussed both short- and long-term goals of fostering an inclusive and safe environment, increasing minority enrollment and improving multicultural resources.
Pollack’s e-mail acknowledges the #BBUM dialogue spearheaded by the BSU last November. The movement, in which Black students shared their experiences of being Black at the University, received national attention and provoked widespread discussions about diversity and inclusion. In an effort to keep the conversation from fading, members of the BSU gathered at Hill Auditorium on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to issue an ultimatum to the University.
Pollack’s e-mail claims the University is listening to the concerns of underrepresented minority students at the University, while admitting “there are times we have not lived up to our highest aspirations” in regard to diversity. The fact that the e-mail was sent in the first place shows campaigns such as #BBUM are effective in gaining administrative attention, and have the potential to result in real change.
Still, Pollack’s message remains vague. She states that the University will work on “increasing enrollment of underrepresented minorities to the fullest extent permitted by law,” but does not outline any specific plan. After the Proposal 2 ballot initiative, Black enrollment at the University has dropped significantly, falling from 6.4 percent of the incoming freshman class in 2006 to 4.1 percent last year. The University should create a specialized recruitment process that aims to differentiate between underrepresented groups and educate each one of opportunities available to them specifically at the University. Instead of relying on an indiscriminate approach that lumps all minorities into one category, the school should target specific groups of underrepresented minorities.
The University should also make an effort to expand its reach to high schools in low-income areas and develop programs for these students. For example, the School of Nursing’s GENESIS Project is an introductory program that exclusively enrolls qualified, underrepresented minority students in grades 8 through 11.
In addition to diversifying its enrollment, the University needs to further promote awareness of multiculturalism. Though residence hall multicultural councils promote conversation, these organizations are only relevant to students who live in the dorms, namely underclassmen. Few highly visible efforts target those living off campus, and the University should increase efforts to educate all students on racial tolerance. Pollack’s email expressed intention the administrations to renovate and eventually relocate the Trotter Multicultural Center. The center is marginalized by its relatively inaccessible location away from campus. The Trotter Center should be moved to a more centralized and properly lit location on Central Campus.
However, the Trotter Center suffers most from a lack of prominence on campus. Trotter focuses on facilitating dialogue between groups and serves as a valuable resource for minority groups on campus. It could be a valuable resource in promoting awareness, but its existence and activities need to be better publicized so as to reach students that may not even know what it is.
If the University has a “strong commitment to diversity and to creating a welcoming and inclusive community,” as stated in Pollack’s e-mail, then it must take action to make students of all races feel like valued members of the campus community. The #BBUM movement and other protests regarding campus inequality have helped amplify underrepresented minority voices, and Pollack’s e-mail demonstrates that the administration is listening. It is time that the University take substantive action to finally turn the campus community into the diverse, inclusive place that students from all walks of life deserve.