Anyone who has looked into the University’s history would know that our institution traces back its roots to the city of Detroit, where it was founded in 1817 and continued until 1837 before moving to Ann Arbor. A recent proposal to organize a program for University students to spend a semester working in Detroit while taking classes at the University’s Detroit Center would be a timely return to those distant roots. The program promises immense benefits for all parties involved; the city of Detroit, the University of Michigan and University students, but in order to work, it must be broad enough to make a significant impact and simple enough for the average student to get involved.
The program, still in its planning stages, would allow students to spend a semester in Detroit taking classes at the University’s Detroit Center, working in the community and living in the city. Like other outreach efforts from the University, such as the Detroit Project, the program will be part of the new collaboration between the University and the Motor City. The program could increase the University’s presence in Detroit as a way to reach out to minority groups and seek potential students for the Ann Arbor campus.
The importance of such a program can hardly be overstated. Detroit, despite its shortcomings, is still the 11th largest city in America, and it still offers an array of opportunities and a wide range of people from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. In the same way that study abroad programs expose students to new environments, spending time in Detroit would be another experience that students could choose to broaden their experience and understanding of both American society and their chosen field of study. And it would be much cheaper than a semester abroad or even a semester in New York City.
Exposing students to the realities of an urban center like Detroit and maintaining a strong University presence there could also help in promoting understanding and diversity – at both the personal and institutional levels. Compared to the rest of Michigan, Ann Arbor is a bubble of prosperity that many students take for granted. Making students aware of the real maladies plaguing our state will personally invest them in the state’s struggles and maybe even make them care enough to stay in the state upon graduation. Thus, the program should be tailored to the average University student, not simply the select few who will take the extra initiative.
Having a presence in Detroit will make the University more accessible and personal to a pool of diverse students that the University hopes to attract. It’s better than outreach; it’s like the University being in your own backyard. In the aftermath of Proposal 2, this could prove vital as the University seeks to continue bringing in underrepresented minorities – groups that disproportionately live in urban centers like Detroit.
The idea is equally as useful for Detroit too. Access to the big talent and knowledge pool from one of the finest research universities in the world could prove crucial to its revival. Close collaboration with the University is bound to leave an impact in the research and development and other knowledge-based industries, similar to the way that schools like University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University fostered the growth of Silicon Valley. More generally, by investing in Detroit, the University is endorsing a belief that Detroit will succeed – an endorsement that alone could help the city’s image and encourage investment from other institutions and businesses.