The students launched the Being Black at University of Michigan (#BBUM) campaign after they finally grew tired of the lack of diversity on their campus and the faculty’s lack of corrective action.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the university’s Black Student Union gathered together to announce a list of seven demands that are aimed at promoting diversity on campus.
The list called for “restoration of the Black Student Union purchasing power through an increased budget;” affordable on-campus housing options; a new multicultural center; more classes that will educate students about the marginalization of minorities throughout American history; “emergency scholarships” for Black students who need financial support: university transparency about its “past dealing with race relations”; and a 10 percent increase in Black representation.
Reports have shown that the university’s Black enrollment has been on a steady decline since 2012, dropping from 4.6 percent of the student body to 4.1 percent in fall of 2013.
“What brings me here today is not what social action is done,” Robert Greenfield, a member of the Black Student Union, said. “It’s the unfinished business of the first three fights of the Black Action Movements. I am a single voice in a sea of voices that yearns to get away from the sea of isolation on this campus.”
The Black Action Movement was a series of three major protests that took place between 1970 and 1987 at the University of Michigan, when Black students first began fighting for more diversity and equality of educational opportunities.
University President Mary Sue Coleman promised the students that change was on the way.
“After climbing a great hill, [Nelson Mandela] once said, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb,” Coleman said. “It is ongoing, one victory at a time, with more hills to climb. I want to thank our students for sharing their angst and their concerns. The BBUM campaign, as difficult as it was to hear, has been incredibly insightful. We hear you, and we are making changes.”
The issue, however, is that the students have heard similar promises before.
“We have heard the phrase ‘we are listening’ since 1970, and I am tired of waiting for a response,” senior member of the BSU, Shayla Scales, said. “Without action, alternatively, we will be forced to engage as an entire community in ways to implement the changes we request.”
Scales announced that the university would have seven days to meet the seven demands and if not the BSU “will be forced to do more, beginning to increase valiantly our activism for social progress and take physical actions on the University of Michigan’s campus.”
The secretary of the BSU, Geralyn Gaines, said that any action taken by the organization will be nonviolent.
The organization has earned much support, but heavy criticism has also followed.
Jennifer Gratz, a white woman who is a strong opponent of the use of affirmative action in college admissions, says the demands are unconstitutional and counter the mission of the civil rights movements.
Gratz successfully sued the university in the past over their admission policies after she was denied admission during her senior year in high school.
“They want special treatment and separate treatment based on their race,” Gratz told the Free press. “That’s something that the civil rights movement has fought against for decades.”
Gratz also criticized the threat to take “physical action,” saying that the university should not “engage with groups that threaten and put superficial deadlines on activity.”