“¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” shouted the students on the Diag Wednesday. I was walking toward Haven Hall on my way to see Nesha Haniff, a professor of mine with whom I had travelled to South Africa in 2008. “What white group of students is co-opting for their own purposes that classic chant from Chile’s Nueva Canción tradition?” I thought to myself as I went into Angell Hall. Sometimes Ann Arbor can be such a caricature of itself.
When I arrived at Nesha’s office, she immediately asked me if I would join her in heading downstairs to the Diag demonstration. She explained that a group of students had organized this to voice their discontent with the decrease in minority enrollment at the University.
“I guess I was wrong about those students on the Diag,” I thought as we headed downstairs.
On the Diag, I caught up with some friends, chanted some chants and was glad to see some familiar faces from the faculty and staff of the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.
Suddenly, I was brought back to perhaps exactly seven years ago, when I was a freshman here on the Diag handing out literature about and protesting Proposal 2, the ballot initiative set forth by the so-called Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (now there’s some co-optation for you).
The initiative sought to cripple affirmative action in the state of Michigan — and it succeeded. On Wednesday, I was reminded that what we had predicted in 2006 has come true: Diversity is on the decline on the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor campus. What’s more, the University has a smaller percentage of Black, Latino and Native American students than other highly selective public and private institutions.
Sometimes Ann Arbor can be a caricature of itself, but that day was not one of those days. On Wednesday, the University of Michigan’s students of color and our allies showed what tremendous character we have in the face of adversity. We’re going to need that character as the Supreme Court hears arguments on Oct. 15 for Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the appeal that has resulted from the overturning of Proposal 2 in 2011.
It’s unclear what the court will do, but if their rulings this year on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the University of Texas admissions policy are any indication, the forecast isn’t good. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we students of color at the University of Michigan remember that even if our numbers dwindle we still have a voice.
Matthew Leslie Santana is a Doctoral student in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.