It hit Rachael Tanner on a rainy Wednesday in November.
She had lost the fight. Proposal 2, the ballot initiative that banned affirmative action in public institutions in Michigan, had passed.
After dedicating much of the past year to the group Students Supporting Affirmative Action, the LSA senior and one of the most visible anti-Prop 2 student leaders on campus was watching University President Mary Sue Coleman stand on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library and reassure students of the University’s commitment to diversity.
Tanner was forced to ask herself a question: Now what?
A year before that day, Tanner didn’t consider herself politically active. Since becoming a core leader of Students Supporting Affirmative Action – which had been dormant since the Supreme Court rulings in 2003 on the University’s affirmative action programs – Tanner immersed her self in all aspects of the campaign, from standing on the Diag with a bullhorn to coordinating with country and state campaigns.
LSA senior Kristen Purdy, a former SSAA member, described Tanner as “tirelessly passionate.”
“I don’t know of anyone that has more passion and energy in everything they do,” Purdy said.
Tanner describes her leadership style and approach to diversity on campus as pragmatic.
“We say the word,” she said. “But what does (diversity) really mean is a question that isn’t asked – or answered enough.”
Since SSAA refocused its mission to addressing inequalities on campus through alternatives to affirmative action in January, Tanner said she has tried to step back her role in SSAA to make room for younger student leaders.
“If I am so worried about what’s going to happen when I graduate, then I should focus my time on making sure the new leaders are ready,” she said.
As for the question “Now what?” in her own life, Tanner says she’ll stay in grassroots organizing.
After graduating with a major in political science later this month, Tanner will work at the Harriet Tubman Center in Detroit, an organization founded in December 2006 that trains prospective community organizers.
“Working on a campaign and having the energy of people was very hands-on, and I know that was really instrumental in shaping the way I wanted to work,” Tanner said.