Last night in the William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center, Nelson Acosta, director of multi-ethnic student affairs, stared downward and smothered his hands in his pockets.
At the front of the wide, beige hall, he looked modest and sheepish.
“Last night I couldn’t sleep,” he said, referring to his struggle with Tuesday’s passage of Proposal 2. “I was upset, I was angry, I was emotional.”
He paused and scanned the faces of the few dozen students and activists present.
“The one thing I refuse to do,” he said, his head, hands and voice bursting suddenly upward, “is give in to despair.”
The MESA-sponsored Post-Election Recovery Day had just shifted gears. Trotter House – until then strewn with pizza boxes, board games and the slumped frames of a few students – was filling with visitors eager to participate in the night’s town hall-style gathering.
Near his seat, Acosta embraced LSA fifth-year student Thanthesha “Shay” Reeves, the impromptu emcee.
“How are you?” he asked.
“As OK as I can be right now,” she said.
Reeves invited students, clustered around tables in groups of five or six, to express their reactions to Proposal 2 – to dance, sing, or “just get up and be silent.”
“We need everybody,” she said. “Every. Body.”
Her urgings yielded poetry, song and sermon. One student unleashed a set of Dane Cook-inspired standup. Another choked back tears as she confessed to her election-day apathy.
LSA senior Jillian Walker sang Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child.”
As Walker fell to her knees in the closing verse, Nelson shut his eyes and pressed a hand against his lips.
In an improvised speech, Law School student Siddharth Nag stressed the importance of cooperation in the coming months.
“I’ll put myself out now,” he said, offering to use his connections within the Law School to advance his fellow advocates’ efforts.
He suggested a massive effort, in which activists from across the University would bring hundreds of middle-school students to tour the campus.
He argued that if the activists were to develop relationships with those students – preparing them for standardized tests and helping with college applications – diversity could be achieved in spite of Proposal 2.
“Everybody sitting in this room knows that we have obligations,” said Alex Moffett, an LSA senior and longtime campus activist who orchestrated the Recovery Day. “This is a wakeup call.”
But many, still lurching from the blow, felt it would take time before they could engage in real action.
“It hasn’t really set in yet,” Reeves said, clenching her fists in front of her face. “I’m still like, ‘Arrr.’ “
“They changed the rules of the game,” Acosta said. “We got beaten (on Tuesday), politically beaten. But they didn’t take our souls away.”
Seated at his table, Acosta, his slight Puerto Rican lilt amplified by his enthusiasm, was gearing up for another speech.
He compared racial preferences to legacy admissions, the relatively uncontroversial practice of giving preference to the children of alumni. “We had Dan Quayle as vice president, and he couldn’t spell ‘potato’,” he said. “I wonder how he got into college.”
Acosta insisted that these systems employ favoritism with less romantic goals than affirmative action.
“I’m a product of affirmative action,” he said.
“Me too,” said Reeves, raising her hand.
“Me three” chimed a third.
As the night wound down, Kinesiology senior Walter Lacy asked audience members to shout out words that depicted their mood. The phrases were to act as a foundation for his freestyle performance.
“Identity,” one suggested.
“Struggle,” said another.
Lacy started slowly, slipping over a few words, pausing a few times to collect his thoughts. He rhymed first about his mother, then his father, his cousin and his brother. With each successive portrait, his tempo heated. His flow became smoother and his thoughts more fluid and complex.
It’s time for us to get together, he began.
An obligation to overcome.
An obligation to overcome.
Then slowly, relishing the last three syllables: The struggle.
“If November 7th was the day that Proposal 2 passed, then November 8th is the day we pledge to remain unified in our fight for diversity,” Coleman said. “Together, we must continue to make this world-class university one that reflects the richness of our society.”
The University needs diversity to remain a first-rate institution, Coleman said.
“I am standing here today to tell you that I will not allow our university to go down the path of mediocrity,” she said “That is not Michigan.”
Before a crowd the Department of Public Safety estimated to be about 2,000 people, Coleman tried to reassure the campus community about a number of worries prompted by Proposal 2.
She assured students that they will continue to receive their financial aid, scholarships and grants, and promised faculty members that none of their jobs are in danger.
By the time MCRI takes effect in late December, the University needs to determine how the constitutional amendment applies to University programs that promote diversity.
Coleman promised that the University will retain all of these programs, even if it must change them to comply with Proposal 2.
“We will continue to review all of our programs dedicated to minority affairs and campus diversity to ensure that they comply with the law, as we have done for many years,” Coleman said.
Coleman said the University will ask the courts to protect the University’s admissions process for the duration of the current admissions cycle. It would be unfair to judge applicants based on two different sets of criteria, she said.
Because MCRI’s language is vague, the University is not entirely clear about how it will adapt to the proposal, Coleman said in an interview with The Michigan Daily. The University’s legal team is currently considering multiple possibilities, she said.
In her speech, Coleman promised that the University would continue to advocate diversity within the framework of the law.
“We believe so strongly in affirmative action that we went before the United States Supreme Court to defend its role, and we prevailed,” Coleman said. “Today, I pledge that the University of Michigan will continue this fight.”