For Michigan residents, equality in
college admissions can have different definitions. For some, it
means judging everyone on the same level. For others, it means
recognizing that not everyone grew up with the same support level
or educational background, and providing disadvantaged candidates
with a little boost.
In the late 1980s, the University committed itself to the notion
that diversity is a compelling state interest in education and
began to consider race as one of many factors in admissions to the
undergraduate and law schools. In 1997, several rejected candidates
sued the University and after six years of going through the court
system, the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that race could be
used as one of many factors in college admissions according to set
guidelines. Now several Republican state legislators, led by
American Civil Rights Coalition founder Ward Connerly, are trying
to override the court’s decision by proposing a state
constitutional amendment for the November 2004 ballot which would
allow Michigan residents to decide whether state universities can
use race as a factor in admissions.
In a recent Associated Press poll, 52 percent of Michigan
residents said they opposed the University’s policies.
One would not expect that Midland,
longtime headquarters of Dow Chemical Co. would contain much
wildlife. But the Chippewa Nature Center is home to more than 1,000
acres of wetlands, rivers, ponds and fields. Naturalist Janea
Little not only knows her field as she talks to Girl Scout troops,
but in an interview afterward, she dispels the University’s
argument that diversity is beneficial for an education.
“I don’t think most people go to the University for an
intellectual experience, they go (to get) a job,” Little said.
Little said that while she appreciates the need for diversity,
especially in her field, which involves studying animals and other
fields of nature, she said it can’t measure up to the importance of
classes and grades.
“(Diversity) can’t be quantitatively valued,” she said, adding
she would support Connerly’s initiative if it came to the
Between the Upper and Lower peninsulas, Mackinac Island tends to
attract a hodgepodge of people, including some who have never left
Northern Michigan and others from around the state that were
brought by its beauty and work opportunities.
Marion Bunker, who lives on the island, said she does not
believe diversity has personal benefits, even as she works
alongside two black co-workers.
“I just think everybody should be equal,” Bunker said,
expressing her disapproval for the University’s policies.
But Josh Richards, originally a Toronto resident, and now
driving a horse-drawn buggy on the island, said growing up in
Toronto made him realize the importance of mixing with different
groups of people.
“If you take all these people and put them together, most of
them will learn about different cultures,” Richards said, adding
that he would not have gained the same insight on the world if he
had grown up with only people similar to his background
“I would have learned it out of a book,” he said.
Chris Peavey remains unsure. As a student at Lake Superior State
University, he said the campus is mostly white, and there is very
little interaction with people of different ethnicities.
“It’s hard to see if you don’t see it firsthand,” Peavey said.
“Culturally, it’d be pretty cool,” to have classes with people of
Two hours south in Gaylord, Shell station clerk Jill Jenkins
said it remains a struggle to have equal standards in what has been
an unfair society.
“That’s a Catch-22 for the University,” she said. “I guess I
want everyone to have an opportunity … but how do they really do
Benton Harbor, located in the state’s
southwest corner, erupted in riots four months ago after a
28-year-old man was killed colliding into a building with his
motorcycle while being chased by police officers. Driving on 196
West, Marvin Gaye’s 1971 hit “What’s Going On” starts playing on a
local radio station. Gaye wrote the song noting his frustrations
with the decline of the inner cities, racism and the ongoing
Vietnam War. Soon, boarded up buildings and decaying neighborhoods
come into the distance. Albert Moore, helping a friend fix his
roof, said there is much frustration among residents of the mostly
black populated city.
“We pay just as much bills as the white folks in (neighboring
and predominantly) St. Joseph,” Moore said, adding that Benton
Harbor residents don’t receive nearly as many benefits. Although
not familiar with the University’s policies, he said
underrepresented minorities are not on equal footing with many
“The poor man should have the same opportunity as the rich man,”
Down the road in St. Joseph, a pretty tourist attraction right
by the water, it is a beautiful Sunday morning and visitors roam
the cobblestone streets. Towanna Jackson, a machinist apprentice
from Pontiac, said that while growing up she faced obstacles in
school because her parents, who never finished high school, could
not help her with homework.
“I didn’t have that support factor,” she said. “My parents
weren’t taught fractions.”
Jackson added that people sometimes need that extra boost to go
to college, especially if they are coming from an impoverished
home. “Without affirmative action, a lot of people wouldn’t get
that opportunity,” she said.
About an hour east from St. Joseph, Timothy Staib is playing
pinball at a laundromat in Marshall. Although he understands the
need for diversity, Staib said he thinks the University needs to
use more scholarships and outreach programs to attract
“The state could pick up the bill,” Staib said, adding that he
doesn’t support giving underrepresented minorities extra
“That’s kind of racist in itself,” he added.
Further east, at a shopping mall in Jackson, Kent Nichols, an
electrician for the University, said he thinks the University went
too far in using race as a factor in admissions, and as a result,
he believes there are some enrolled students who simply aren’t
“I don’t know if you should look for total diversity,” Nichols
said. “Being a white male, it’s hard to get in.”
A few feet away, antique seller Agnes Signor said efforts need
to be made to help disadvantaged children in elementary and high
schools. “It might take a few years, but wouldn’t the end results
be better,” she asked.
Telegraph Road runs from Pontiac to Detroit, with Bloomfield
Hills in between – a half-hour drive from one of the poorest areas
in America to one of the richest. Outside a Red Lobster in
Dearborn, Rahman Akeir declares black people don’t even have their
equality in citizenship.
“We pay more for everything,” Akeir said. “Nothing is equal as
far as black and white, whether it’s education or financing.”
His friend Rene Deloach asked how everyone can be judged equally
now after starting off on different paths as children.
“I do feel like we should get a fair chance because we weren’t
originally,” Deloach said.
The affirmative action question took a different turn down the
road in Taylor at a youth soccer game where Larry Anicely
highlighted socioeconomic disadvantages as a more serious problem
than racial disadvantages.
“My child might be at a disadvantage because they’re not getting
as good an education than a kid from a more affluent area,”
Aniceley said. He added that while affirmative action might have
been necessary 30 years ago, it is outdated today.
“Most of your communities today are diverse,” he said. “All kids
have the same opportunity as everybody else.”
Yet at the Star Theatre in Southfield, Eva Burgess, a retired
General Motors employee, disagreed with that statement, listing all
the problems Detroit has today. Although she acknowledged that
things have gotten better, there is still a long way to go.
“I don’t know what the magic formula is,” Burgess said.
But she said she was uncomfortable outright supporting the
University’s policies, saying she wished there was a way where
white students spots weren’t being sacrificed for black
“There needs to be a fair policy,” she said.
The drive back to Ann Arbor occurred
Sunday night at sunset, just as Yom Kippur and a 24-hour period of
fasting started. Yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman
said she is optimistic that an initiative to thwart the
University’s policies will not pass, although the University would
have to work hard in showing Michigan residents the benefits of its
“Ultimately, I have to believe that the Michigan voters would
see that this isn’t right,” Coleman said.