Since Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in 2006, members of the University community, including alumni, have spearheaded a variety of programs to encourage underrepresented minorities to attend the University.
One of these programs is the Leadership Excellence Achievement Diversity Program, which received a $250,000 donation from the University’s chapter of the African American Alumni Council last month. Created by the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan, the LEAD Program grants underrepresented minority students accepted to the program a minimum of $2,500 and up to $10,000 or $15,000, depending on state residency, per year. The new donation funds will be distributed among 10 students.
In addition to providing LEAD Scholars with money to help cover tuition, the purpose of the program is to connect students with alumni and enhance diversity at the University. Currently, there are 113 LEAD Scholars.
In an interview at an event for the 35th All Class Reunion of Black Graduates this past weekend, University alum Richard Stacy, national chair of AAAC, said his experiences at the University as a young black man inspired him to help other minorities.
“I am a strong believer in the University as an opportunity to expand one’s mind and I think that there are a lot of youngsters, particularly underrepresented minorities, whose view of the world is pretty narrow because they simply haven’t had the exposure and the experience,” Stacy said.
He added that Proposition 2, or the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative — the ballot initiative in the 2006 election that outlawed affirmative action — wasn’t the only factor in the organization’s decision to make the donation, which came from its Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund. However, the affirmative action ban was “a big part of the equation,” Stacy said.
The percentage of underrepresented minority students at the University has declined since the affirmative action ban took effect in December 2006. Admitted to the University before the ban, the class of 2010 had 12.6 percent underrepresented minority students. This year, 10.5 percent of the freshman class is comprised of underrepresented minorities. Last year’s freshman class had slightly more underrepresented minorities at 10.6 percent. This was an increase from the 9.1 percent in the 2009-2010 freshman class, though the augmentation could partly be a result of changes to ethnicity data reporting guidelines of the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
School of Social Work alum Matthew Jones, treasurer of the AAAC, was one of the first members of the LEAD mentor team. He said he became a mentor since he has been part of an underrepresented minority group at the University.
“I think it’s critically important for African Americans to give back to the younger generations because we are standing on someone’s shoulders, and it’s important for them to understand their responsibility in one, getting an education and two, being a responsible member of the community,” Jones said.
Through mentorship, the LEAD Program intends to create a network of students and alumni that future students can turn to for support.
“We hope that the students will get an appreciation of giving back and the appreciation of connecting with multigenerational people,” Stacy said. “(They’ll) start to realize they’re not on an island as a student because many African American and underrepresented minority students are first generation college students.”
Art & Design freshman Chris Ford, a LEAD Scholar, said he is making new connections through the program, which he called a “wonderful experience,” and could see himself being a future mentor.
“I’d love to talk to a mentee and help them out with their transition,” Ford said. “I definitely have a strong connection with my mentor.”
He added that since neither of his parents graduated from college, he is especially determined to obtain his undergraduate degree.
“Coming from a background where my mother and my father (didn’t graduate) kind of pushed me to do better, strive better in life,” Ford said. “At U of M … everyone wants to come here because it’s a really well-known school or has intelligent students and great opportunities.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misidentified Matthew Jones’s affiliation with the School of Social Work.