Yesterday, in a crowded room in the East Quad Residence Hall, members of the University’s African-American community shared their personal experiences with racism at the University and advocated for the return of affirmative action.
Many students who spoke said the University’s pledges of promoting diversity were hollow.
Shanta Driver, national chairperson for the advocacy group By Any Means Necessary and George B. Washington, an attorney, spoke about the necessity of their ongoing court battle to overturn Prop 2, which banned affirmative action in Michigan.
Their case is scheduled to go before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 7.
The event was hosted by eRACism, a University organization dedicated to fighting racism on the University campus and advocating for affirmative action.
LSA junior Arim Abraham, an eRACism spokeswoman, said she hopes the event drew attention to racial disparities that still exist on campus.
“A lot of people don’t realize how great the issue of racism is and just how prevalent it is on the University campus,” she said.
Abraham said many minorities don’t speak out about the racism they encounter at the University, but rather internalize it and let it affect them economically and socially.
“We wanted people…to understand how different experiences can be based on the color of your skin,” she added, “We are not naïve enough to think that we are going to erase racism, but we think we can combat it through affirmative action.”
Abraham said affirmative action would help decrease racism on campus because it would bring increased diversity to the University.
“Having a more diverse campus will create more cultural diversity and make it so that people are…less ignorant,” she said. “(I think) they (just) don’t know how discriminatory their prejudices are.”
LSA sophomore Donavan McKinney said he has experienced a significant amount of racism as an African-American student at the University. While attending a freshman seminar, he said he was prejudiced against because he answered questions the professor asked.
“I heard a couple of white kids talking, and they were like why is this n-word here and why does he think he is smart,” he said.
McKinney also said students judge him because he is from Detroit. He said many white students ask him if he has been shot, has tattoos or has a father.
“It is ignorant things that people say and this talk right here is really needed,” McKinney said. “(We can) get them to see that we’re not all bad. We are actually intellectual people who deserve to be at this University.”
Driver, who was on the legal team that won Grutter v. Bollinger on behalf of the University — the 2003 Supreme Court case that upheld the use of affirmative action in admissions — said increasing the number of African-American students at the University is significant, but more can be done to promote greater access.
“We think that the numbers can increase if the University is prepared to take every action they can to increase black student enrollment,” she said.
Driver also advocated for students to speak up and take action when they are confronted with racism in their lives. She said organizing with BAMN is a way to channel frustration with the racism they experience.
“It breaks my heart when I hear that people get treated in racists ways in a class,” Driver said. “(But many) don’t want to speak about it because they are worried about getting stereotyped.”
Washington said he is concerned with decreasing African-American enrollment in universities as a result of the ban on affirmative action.
“There should be 50 percent more black students at this University right now,” he said.
Washington said the March 7th case is an important step for affirmative action, as the Sixth Circuit Court is just below the Supreme Court. He added that they will appeal the case to the Supreme Court if they lose at the Circuit Court level.
“This case is important not just for Michigan…it is important for the whole country,” he said. “…We got to send the message that this is intolerable.”