The new anti-racist movement building on this campus has the power to force the University to take the long overdue steps needed to keep promises it made in the 1970 Black Action Movement agreement. On April 1, 1970, the University administration and the University’s Board of Regents, under the pressure of an integrated and powerful student strike, promised Black and Latin@ students to take steps to increase the number of minority students on campus. BAM, an umbrella organization comprised of all the Black student groups, and the small but growing Latin@ and Chican@ organizations on campus, began by recognizing that the gains won from the Black students’ actions beginning in the mid-1960s, including the creation of special minority scholarships, hiring of Black faculty and new high school outreach programs for Detroit had failed to make the University a more welcoming and less racist campus.
BAM understood that increasing minority student enrollment was the prerequisite to changing the University. The main slogan of the BAM struggle was “Open it up or we will shut it down.”
In 1970, Black students constituted a mere 4 percent of the student body. Latina@ students were treated as invisible. The University administration did not even try to keep accurate statistics on the number of Latin@ or Native American students on campus.
BAM demanded and won the promise from the University administration and the regents that Black student enrollment would increase to 10 percent of the student body by the 1973-74 school year. It won a second demand to increase Latin@ student enrollment, and agreed to take special measures to increase Latin@ enrollment, including a special recruiter for Chican@ students as a first step.
The promise to take the actions necessary to increase Black student enrollment to 10 percent has been broken for 40 years. The University ranked 147th on this year’s U.S. News and World Report diversity index. The #BBUM campaign launched this fall documented how pervasive racism is at the University now. If the administration and the regents continue to break the promises they made to minority students and communities 40 years ago, the downward cycle of recruiting and retaining minority students will continue to get worse.
Ten years after the Supreme Court victory for affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger and 40 years after the BAM strike, the proportion of Black and Latin@ students at the University is declining. In a state that is now over 14 percent Black, Black students comprise less than 5 percent of the student body. The proportion of Latin@ students dropped from 5.6 percent in 2006, to 4.75 percent in 2012, even though the Latin@ community in Michigan continues to grow at a rapid rate. The proportion of Native American students at the University is less than half of the proportion of the Native American population of Michigan.
It is time for a change. It is time for the movement to force the University administration to keep the promises they made in 1970. This is a modest demand given the fact that the University has had ample time to keep its promises. The administration has always known how to achieve an increase in underrepresented minority student enrollment. If they claim not to know now, the movement can tell them how.
The creation of scores of committees, numerous “fireside chats,” and the pledges made by every incoming University president to advance diversity, have done nothing to change the campus climate. To make the University a campus that welcomes, nurtures and provides minority students with the same opportunities to learn and develop that it offers to white students, the University must carry out the promises they knew and agreed were necessary in 1970. Keeping its pledge to raise Black student enrollment to 10 percent, reversing the drop in Latin@ enrollment, creating a Dream Scholarship for undocumented students and doubling the number of Native American and other under-represented students are the first steps the University needs to take now to keep the promises it made to provide the an equal quality education for every minority student on this campus.
Meeting the 10 percent demand is the one measurable and transparent action the University can take to prove to minority youth and communities, especially to the students of Detroit, that its commitment to diversity and integration is more than just lip service. If the University will not fulfill the promises they made 40 years ago, there is no reason for the new student, civil rights and immigrant rights movement to believe that the vague and minor promises it is making behind closed doors will ever materialize.
Over the next several years the state of Michigan will provide the University with new, much larger public grants. In 1970, the student movement demanded and the regents agreed to spend tens of millions of dollars to increase minority enrollment. The new movement has the power to make the regents use the new infusion of public funds they will start receiving this year to finally fulfill the historic agreement they entered into in 1970.
Only by keeping the letter and spirit of the promises made in 1970, can the University of Michigan become the great university it claims to be.
Kate Stenvig is a University alum, Ahmed Mohamed is an LSA junior, and Taylor Jones is an LSA freshman. The authors are members of By Any Means Necessary.