Twelve University of Michigan students flew to California, Texas and Washington over Fall Break to investigate ways to prevent a drop in underrepresented minority enrollment after the statewide ban on affirmative action.
Like the University of Michigan, public universities in those three states are prohibited by law from using affirmative action in admissions and financial aid.
Michigan’s affirmative action ban – passed by state voters in November – went into effect in December of last year.
Administrators from the University of California at Los Angeles and at Berkeley, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Washington at Seattle came to Ann Arbor in December to talk to University of Michigan administrators about dealing with affirmative action bans.
John Matlock, the director of the University’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, said the only thing missing from that dialogue was a student perspective, which is why they sent groups made up of three students and a faculty member to each of the four universities over break.
The provost’s office funded the trip. A committee working on other diversity plans selected the students for the trip.
There is a fifth group that will be conducting the same kind of interviews at the University of Michigan this weekend, Matlock said.
Each student group will compile their notes into a summary, which will be combined into a report for Lester Monts, the senior vice provost for academic affairs, Matlock said. He said the students will probably present the findings to the public at a conference on Nov. 3.
One thing that struck LSA sophomore Nadia Viswanath, who visited the University of California at Berkeley, was the isolation some students said they experience upon walking into a classroom as one of only a few minority students on campus. She said many of them described an increased sense of pressure to succeed academically in order to best represent their minority group.
LSA senior Emily Gomes went to Berkeley with Viswanath.
She said students there missed the initial effects of California’s Proposition 209 – which banned affirmative action there in 1996 – making the majority of students apathetic about the situation. But she said many minority students described a feeling of isolation on campus because the school now has so few minorities.
To combat this, Berkeley established outreach centers that target specific ethnicities for recruitment. To get around Proposal 209, these centers are entirely student run.
“That would be a great thing to look into,” Viswanath said. “I don’t want to see Michigan end up with the same problems.”
Shana Schoem traveled to Seattle to talk to students and administrators from the University of Washington.
She said Washington is unique because they were able to maintain a diverse student population after affirmative action was banned there.
Schoem said one thing that impressed her was how much diversity is a part of the dialogue on campus. She said the University of Washington has an administrative department called the Office of Minority Affairs that holds meetings between students and faculty so they can discuss their thoughts and ideas about campus atmosphere.
Schoem said she thinks the University of Michigan could benefit from a similar advisory board that can address student concerns.
Engineering senior Laura Cottingham talked with students and administrators from the University of Texas at Austin. Immediately after the Texas Supreme Court banned affirmative action in 1996, the school saw a dip in underrepresented minority enrollment. But after Texas set up a program that automatically admits anyone in the top 10 percent of his or her graduating class, minority enrollment rose.