Dozens of yellow-shirted students representing the Coalition for Tuition Equality, accompanied by student representatives of allied organizations on campus, filled the Michigan Union’s Pendleton Room yesterday during the University’s Board of Regents meeting.
At the meeting, several student organizations protested in support of issues such as childcare for graduate students and increased enrollment for underrepresented demographics.
LSA junior Luz Meza, who spoke on the Coalition’s behalf, said the group had been contacted by Regents Julia Darlow (D–Ann Arbor) and Katherine White (D–Ann Arbor) to further discuss the group’s core issues at a later date.
Meza, a U.S. citizen advocating on behalf on undocumented immigrants, recounted a personal story about one of her closest friends from high school in Detroit, who was an undocumented immigrant. Her friend was arrested during their senior year and deported to Mexico despite being accepted to attend college at the University of Detroit-Mercy.
“Over the course of the three years I spent in Mexico, none of my classmates and I discussed higher education,” Meza said. “(My) parents brought me to the United States because of the opportunities that they know we will have. There were only five of my peers from elementary school to graduate from high school, and I was the only to attend college.”
Meza also called for increased enrollment of Latino and African-American students, the implementation of a mandatory intergroup relations course for University students and establishment of in-state tuition for undocumented students.
“I want to go back to southwest Detroit and tell them that the University of Michigan cares about them, and that we are doing something to remedy the situation,” Meza said.
After Meza spoke, Darlow requested that University Provost Philip Hanlon provide the regents with information about the status of undocumented students at the University for later review. Hanlon stated that the Provost’s office would make that information available to the regents as soon as possible.
Education senior Laura Washington spoke on behalf of eRACism, a University organization that focuses on fighting racism on campus and advocates for affirmative action based admissions policies. Washington described occurrences of racism and provided testimonies from anonymous students at the University who have encountered racial discrimination.
“Unfortunately, it is a common misconception that we live in a post-racist society and we should no longer discuss such historical attitudes,” Washington said. “We know that racism is still alive and shaping the experiences of students at this university.”
Washington described the desecration of images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez in the Mary Markley Residence Hall and the alienation of African-American students in group work, among other incidents.
Washington added that eRACism aims to see a 10-percent increase in African-American student enrollment by 2016.
The group presented information from the Office of the Registrar, showing a decline in the enrollment of African-American students from 6.58 percent in 2007 to 4.71 percent in the fall of 2011.
Washington echoed Meza, saying that an intergroup relations class was essential for breaking down barriers at the University.
The two groups had previously arranged to protest their grievances on the same day. Organizations such as the University’s chapter of the NAACP also sent students in support of the Coalition and eRACism.
Members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization — the union that represents graduate students’ interests — also spoke to request improved access to daycare services through the University.
The University provides a $150,000 fund to help graduate students cover the cost of childcare. According to Rackham student Patrick O’Mahen, the school’s Central Student Government representative, that amount was recently supplemented with another $35,000 from CSG.
With his child in his arms as he spoke, Rackham student Daniel Birchok discussed how the fund has impacted his family and his research.
“Without these funds, my wife and I would have to cut Anna’s daycare in half,” Birchok said. “I would have to write most of my dissertation while simultaneously caring for her, something that would not be fair to Anna or my scholarly pursuits.”
A graduate student parent whose spouse does not work more than 20 hours a week is not eligible for the childcare subsidy. However, Birchok said the policy often excludes international parents who do not have work visas in the United States and spouses that are currently unemployed but dedicate many hours per week searching for work.
He added that in the last contract between graduate students and the University, the graduate students opted to forgo higher pay increases in order to establish the fund.
Samantha Montgomery, president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, said CSG’s recent commitment to the fund was heartening and a stark contrast to the University’s obstinacy on the issue.
“The latest offer from the University was extremely disappointing, and it neglected to adequately address our concerns,” Montgomery said. “It is also disappointing in light of the recent resolution by the Central Student Government to contribute an additional $35,000 to this fund, representing the commitment of students to support the fair treatment of all members of this University community.”
Darlow also requested that Hanlon provide information on the childcare issue to the regents at their next meeting.
Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misstated the University’s Board of Regents’ involvement with the the Coalition for Tuition Equality, misstated LSA junior Luz Meza’s citizenship status and misstated Education senior Laura Washington’s college and year.