WASHINGTON, D.C. — University President Mary Sue Coleman once said, “Diversity is an old, old wooden ship that was used during the Civil War era.” Oh, never mind — I guess that was Ron Burgundy in Anchorman.
Unlike Burgundy, Coleman and University administrators seemingly understand the concept and implications of diversity. As soon as students begin their admissions applications, they’re bombarded with the importance of diversity at the University. However, school demographics paint a very different picture.
The enrollment of minority students has significantly dropped since the implementation of Proposal 2 — which banned race and gender-based affirmative action in the state of Michigan — in November 2006. Seven years ago, the University was considered a frontrunner in embracing diversity. The incoming class of 2006 was 7.3 percent African American, 5.6 percent Hispanic and 1.1 percent Native American. Unfortunately, undergraduate enrollment for people of color has dropped by approximately one-third in six years. 2012 statistics indicate that African Americans constituted 4.6 percent of the undergraduate population, Hispanics 4.3 percent and Native Americans 0.17 percent.
Since Proposal 2 was enacted, the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights By Any Means Necessary, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and many University professors and students have worked to overturn the amendment in Michigan. BAMN immediately filed a lawsuit against the ban, citing violation of the 4th amendment.
In December 2006, a different case, Cantrell et. al v. Granholm, was brought forward by the ACLU and NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund on behalf of University students and faculty. The Cantrell side relied heavily on the notion that Proposal 2 created an unequal political process where people could lobby the University’s Board of Regents to admit more students from their interest group — athletes, legacies, students from the Upper Peninsula, etc. — except for interest groups concerned with race.
The two cases were consolidated early on due to their similar positions about the constitutionality of Michigan’s ban on affirmative action. Proposal 2 was upheld in the district courts in 2008 and then overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and accepted the justices in March 2013. Oral arguments were heard on October 15.
As the attorneys and justices settled in for their hearing, four police officers lined the steps anticipating protesters who had not yet arrived. Three officers were stationed closer to the Supreme Court doors while five others roamed the perimeter. Loud whistles, chanting and a megaphone announced the arrival of BAMN members and other affirmative action supporters. They appeared in front of the court steps as 10 more police officers drove up on motorcycles. Chants echoed throughout the area.
“They say Jim Crow, we say hell no!”
“Integration now, segregation never!”
“Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and White, by any means necessary we will fight!”
Several University students stood among the crowd where the majority of protesters were from minority populations. The demographics were drastically different than Michigan classrooms where oftentimes a minority student may be the only person of their community present. In these situations, the burden of representation becomes very severe.
“It’s discouraging. It’s frustrating. It makes you doubt yourself. You have to fight and try to work so much harder,” noted Education senior Ariam Abraham. Abraham said she many times took the lead on group projects because she didn’t want to be associated with society-created stereotypes of Black people.
LSA sophomores Lewis Graham and Chris Ransburg, both Black, affirmed Abraham’s experiences. In a chemistry class of over 200, Graham could count on one hand the Black students in his class, creating pressure for him to work harder and be better. Ransburg felt similarly: “I want to stand out. If I mess up, it’s not just me that’s messing up.”
It’s indisputable that the University’s minority population has been dwindling since 2006. As a result, minority students are forced to represent their entire population creating unfair burdens and obstacles. Diversity doesn’t just benefit minorities. It benefits everybody through new understandings of people who are different from you. So is affirmative action the answer to creating diversity among college campuses?
It is regularly noted that the basis of the problem lies not in college admissions but in the continuing oppression of minority students through education, geographic and socio-economic means. “It’s the mentality of people that needs to change,” added Adelia Davis, an LSA freshman at the protest.
Unfortunately, these problems can’t be solved overnight. Affirmative action may not be the ideal solution to create a more diverse campus. There are obvious flaws. It often perpetuates the idea that minority students are only accepted due to their race. It ignores the struggles of lower-income students. It doesn’t help retain minority students after they are accepted. Affirmative action cannot solve any of these problems. It is a temporary solution for much larger issues. But while these issues are being worked on, it will have to do.
Aarica Marsh is an LSA junior.
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misstated minority enrollment numbers for the class of 2017. Those numbers apply to the incoming class of 2006.