Contrary to the spirit of cooperation and solidarity, a group of black students at the University of Michigan believe they should receive some sort of special treatment because they are black. While the students may have legitimate concerns regarding campus culture, making outrageous demands is the least effective means of asking the administration to take their concerns seriously. In fact, given their unreasonable and unrealistic expectations it would be best if all of these protesting black students simply transferred to a premiere historically black school (HBCU) like Howard University in Washington, D.C.
The ‘Being Black At University of Michigan’ (#BBUM) movement launched after Theta Xi, a fraternity at University Of Michigan, held a “Hood Ratchet Thursday” party portraying all sorts of cultural stereotypes during the fall semester of 2013. Many offended students responded by requesting that black students share stories of what it was like being black at Michigan. This is completely reasonable. As someone who was a minority student at all four schools I attended, I know how important it is to have these stories known and heard by those who making decisions about campus culture. But this is where the reasonableness ends. In a baffling move this week the Black Student Union at Michigan offered a list of “demands” the university must meet:
(1) We demand that the university give us an equal opportunity to implement change, the change that complete restoration of the BSU purchasing power through an increased budget would obtain.
(2) We demand available housing on central campus for those of lower socio-economic status at a rate that students can afford, to be a part of university life, and not just on the periphery.
(3) We demand an opportunity to congregate and share our experiences in a new Trotter [Multicultural Center] located on central campus.
(4) We demand an opportunity to be educated and to educate about America’s historical treatment and marginalization of colored groups through race and ethnicity requirements throughout all schools and colleges within the university.
(5) We demand the equal opportunity to succeed with emergency scholarships for black students in need of financial support, without the mental anxiety of not being able to focus on and afford the university’s academic life.
(6)We demand increased exposure of all documents within the Bentley (Historical) Library. There should be transparency about the university and its past dealings with race relations.
(7) We demand an increase in black representation on this campus equal to 10 percent.
If I were a university official I would clearly communicate that most of these “demands” are unreasonable and that the rest can be met through opportunities that already exist. The first demand is unreasonable because no small undergraduate student group is given opportunity to implement change at any large public university in America. Why should Michigan be any different? The implementation of change is the charge of the board of directors, administrators, faculty, and voters.
The second demand has no basis in race and clearly represents life in the real world. People who can pay higher rents have more and better choices. Why should the University of Michigan be any different than the rest of America?
The third demand seems amendable enough since the Trotter Center is on-campus space already designated for such discourse. The students should simply arrange an event.
The fourth demand seems achievable by students simply reading those historical narratives and encouraging their friends to do the same. In fact, in 1970, the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS) was established at Michigan for that very purpose. However, making such education compulsory will undermine their desire for heartfelt racial solidarity as it will likely weave the threads of campus-wide racial resentment. Additionally, there is no rationale for why black histories are more privileged than other minority group histories, given the fact that black students are the third-largest minority group behind Asians and Hispanics at the university.
The fifth demand is among the most outrageous. If students cannot afford to study at Michigan perhaps they should transfer somewhere that makes more financial sense. Again, this is what people have to do in the real world every day. If I cannot afford something, I cannot purchase it. Why give black students special emergency financial scholarships and not give them to low-income Hispanic, Asian, or white families?
The sixth demand shows that these students are unaware of how decisions are made on college campuses. At universities, as is true in the real world, money talks. If these students want documents displayed in the university library in a special collection, or to receive additional funding for any other university projects, they should raise money through the university’s African American Alumni Council. No library is going to turn down funding that supports a reasonable historical display.
The seventh demand evidences that these students have not done their homework. It is the most outrageous of them all. Michigan’s black student enrollment for Fall 2013 was 4.82 percent. Currently, there is no school in the Big Ten Conference that has a black student enrollment of 10 percent on a main campus. No, not even one. The University of Michigan is no different than comparable schools. Demanding 10 percent is random.
Given these demands it seems that the #BBUM movement students would be better off enrolling at Howard University. A school like Howard is structured to meet all of their educational, housing, and financial aid demands while giving them the on-campus college experience they desire. If Michigan’s retention numbers dropped by 4.82 percent, and their tuition revenue by the same number, then the university would make changes especially if alumni donors respond negatively. However, as long as black students are enrolling in Michigan “as is,” the university can rest in its due diligence to accommodate minority students to date because Hispanic and Asian student populations have increased. In the end, if the black students at Michigan want special treatment then the university should do whatever is necessary to facilitate their transfers.