Chants of “they say ‘Jim Crow,’ we say, ‘hell no,’ ” echoed across campus for the second time this semester as By Any Means Necessary partnered with Michigan high school students to protest the University’s admissions process.
Protesters flooded the Student Activities Building, congregating in both the Office of Undergraduate Admissions on the first floor and then the Office of Financial Aid upstairs. The group held signs, shouted chants and gave speeches criticizing the University’s admission process for not doing enough to increase minority enrollment.
Four students were highlighted in the protest, and each of whom were rejected by the University this year despite having what they believed were strong applications. Brooke Kimbrough from University Prep Academy High School in Detroit, Daisha Martin from Seaholm High School in Birmingham, and Alfredo Aguirre and Mario Martinez, both from Cass Technical High School in Detroit, spoke through megaphones in the Office of Admissions, sharing stories of their work leading up to applying to college and their subsequent denial to the University.
The students said the University is not accommodating the difference in opportunities between white and minority students applying to college. Many said the more affluent, typically white students are better able to prepare for the college curriculum while students from families with lower socioeconomic statuses work just as hard without the same payoff.
Ted Spencer, associate vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admissions, listened to the students’ concerns, who insisted the University needed to be more active in admitting minority students. Students asked Spencer to explain exactly why they weren’t admitted, even chanting for Spencer to show them their files.
Kimbrough, who is currently a high school senior, has a GPA of 3.5 and an ACT score of 23 out of the possible 36. These scores are below the average scores of the Fall 2013 freshman class in which students’ GPA averaged 3.85 and ACT scores ranged from 29 to 33.
Still, Kimbrough has served as the executive director of her school’s National Honors Society Chapter, of which she is now the president, and has worked with the Alternative for Girls nonprofit organization, which aids at-risk youth. Additionally, this past weekend, she and her debate team won the Urban Debate National Championship.
Kimbrough said she was given a deferred admission decision after applying early action and subsequently denied admission — a decision she felt was unfair given her level of academic and extracurricular success throughout high school.
“It frustrates me when I’m actually trying to do something, bring this over to the University and show them that, ‘Yes, you can still come from this kind of area with one parent at that home and not a lot of money coming in every year, but you can still be somebody,’” she said.
Aguirre and Martinez said another major issue at their high school is money, noting the University’s tuition costs were too high for their families to afford. They said the price of tuition typically discourages students from applying with the knowledge they would not be able to attend even if they were admitted.
“It’s demoralizing how they pretty much give you the bait and take it away; they’re just playing with you,” Aguirre said. “I felt the same way. Even if I’m able to get in, what is the point because I can’t pay for it?”
As the BAMN protesters left the student activities building, Spencer had a candid conversation with Martin about the admissions process as others in the lobby looked on. Martin told Spencer about her work outside of class, such as starting a Black student union and working with various other volunteering and community outreach work.
Martin tried to appeal to her and Spencer’s shared race as Black individuals, asking him to, “look at the color of his skin,” saying that he should understand the added difficulties many minority students face when applying to schools.
“I’ve changed my community,” she told Spencer. “You’ve denied me admissions, and I’ve already done what you’re trying to teach your kids here to do.”
Still, Spencer told both Martin and the group at large that the University is highly selective, and even students who excel in certain areas may not have the strongest overall application to be accepted.
Spencer rejected the accusation that the University does not do enough to bring in minority students. Despite the elimination of affirmative action policies following the passage of Proposal 2 in 2006, Spencer said the admissions office still uses a holistic approach to student admissions. The Office of Admissions evaluates each individual applicant on academic experiences, student essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular experiences and socioeconomic profile, among other considerations.
“We look at everything that we can to try to figure out how could this student be successful at Michigan and would it be a good fit,” Spencer said. “We’ll put our record up against any school in the country. I talk to my friends at Stanford and at Princeton; they both say we use the same process to evaluate students.”
As for the rejected high school students, they said they plan to continue working toward admittance despite being admitted to other colleges. BAMN organizers said the group plans to hold another protest next week and will likely bring more students who were not accepted to the University.