At a forum last night, panelists suggested students undertake a grassroots effort to bring minority students to the University after the passage of Proposal 2, which banned affirmative action in Michigan.
The event, hosted by the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, featured a panel of six faculty members from CAAS and other departments. The faculty members led a discussion on the future of campus diversity and solicited ideas and viewpoints from the audience.
Although audience members were offered the chance to speak immediately after the introduction of the panelists, they were hesitant to begin the dialogue. Instead, CAAS Prof. Angela Dillard initiated the discussion with her suggestions for minority recruitment and outreach.
Dillard first spoke about the role of black churches, which she called “an obvious set of allies.” She stressed the ability of churches to advise their members on the importance of higher education.
She also suggested the University create new learning communities as a mechanism to attract and retain minority students.
Other ideas discussed were geographical preference in enrollment and a system like Texas’s 10-percent plan, where any student who graduates high school with a certain class rank is admitted. University President Mary Sue Coleman has said she opposes defined such a system. Panelists said they were uncertain what effects those systems would have on minority enrollment.
As the forum went on, members of the audience began to open up. Members of the Black Student Union stepped up to the microphone to explain their positions and pose questions to the panelists.
BSU historian Courtney Monroe said she was concerned that black studies could stagnate because of Proposal 2. She asked what CAAS will do to protect black interests on campus.
The panelists, along with Terrence McDonald, dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, assured students that the department would not be hurt.
BSU Vice-Speaker Sheldon Johnson then stood up to express his frustration with what he considers a half-hearted response by the University.
“When are we going to stop educating (on affirmative action) and make a move?” Johnson asked.
Johnson said the University expects students to make a difference but hasn’t taken enough steps toward protecting minority interests.
Panelists said students play a crucial role in effecting change on campus.
“Affirmative action did not come down from the administration or the federal government,” History Prof. Matthew Lassiter said. “It came about on the grassroots level.”
CAAS Prof. Kevin Gaines said minority students concerned about being marginalized on campus should make an effort to wield their influence.
“The newspaper and student government – those are yours,” he said. “They might not be serving you now, but you can change that by getting involved.”
– Lisa Haidostian contributed to this report.