black-students-university-michigan-bbumContrary 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.


  • Greg

    I have to say you are spot on with your comments.

    I’m not very eloquent, but to be blunt, these kids make blacks look very bad. They apparently have a sense of entitlement, garnered from who knows where. They separate themselves from the mainstream by their very actions. I’m sure there are numerous minorities at UM. So why aren’t other student groups asking for special treatment? When’s the last time you heard about Chinese students asking for special treatment? Vietnamese? West Indian? Native Americans? You don’t since these groups recognize they have a fantastic opportunity to be whatever they want to be. Maybe they got a hand up, but don’t expect a handout.

    This is a sad and pathetic reflection of our social structure and an ominous outlook of the future of our country.

    • jay kay

      don’t they know that blacks in america are entitled to nothing??!!

    • Taq

      I think I get what you’re saying:

      “Since no one else stood up first, no one should stand up first.”

      Paraphrased of course, but does that sound about right?

  • Terry

    Yes, the demands can be debated, but the solution is ridiculous. You’re basically saying if the students want to be “too black”, then they should go to a black school. Students of all races and ethnicities should be able to express their concerns about how their culture fits into their school. Most students are not asking for “special treatment’, they just to level the playing field. (P.S. to do that you must first realize the field has been disorted)

    -Howard Univeristy sophomore

    • Anthony Bradley

      HU Sophomore,

      Thanks for the comment. No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Given their list of demands, they want special treatment. Blacks are the third largest minority group on campus behind Asian Americans and Hispanics. I’m not sure how this unleveled playing field works in favor of Hispanics but is working against blacks. All races should express their concerns, that’s why the school already has the Trotter Center, etc. and I applaud those efforts. It just seems to me that an HBCU might be a better fit for them in light of their demands. For those of us who attend a predominantly white institution there are ways to get things done and be heard and there are other ways that are nonsensical. Demanding 10% black enrollment is one of those.

      • Taq

        Your lack of research is offensive. The amount of things you have to say is way out of proportion to the amount of information you have sought on the matter.

        The fact that you only repeated information from the group’s public statements on the current numbers involved–with no respect for the trends involved, or event the context of BEING BLACK AT UM, which has its own history–is ridiculous.

        All you see is what’s in front of you, and it is sickening to think that given only that you are so adamantly rallied against these students. Maybe you should be one of the people contacting them for more info, maybe you should be asking to interview the leadership and getting a deeper breakdown of the demands AND THEN forming an opinion…maybe that would be too much like editorial work and you wouldn’t get as many Facebook hits from the WHITE MAJORITY you’re crowd-pleasing right now.

        All I’m saying is, do some homework and stop hating on a group of young individuals that are doing something that you were trained to think to small to accomplish. Period

  • KB

    I’m trying to understand why even broaching questions, or in the media age, issuing demands, is an indictment on the intelligence, level of agency, or sense of entitlement of people; especially undergraduate students? In the face of sweeping global change over the past 30 years (globalization, outsourcing, information technology, social media) , and the real impacts on the daily lives of people, especially people of color in the “rustbelt” (the post-industrial cities of the American midwest), learning to “stand up for what you believe in” while getting a formal education…flaws and all…is the STUFF of leadership. If a group of undergraduates at any other university in the world, a group that felt as if they were a marginalized and underrepresented group, and a group that leveraged social media to accomplish this, the “default” response would likely be, “I don’t understand the demands, but I applaud these young people expressing themselves”. But because these are black students from America, the “default” reaction is that they are entitled spoiled brats that can’t appreciate the opportunity they have? And therefore they should go to a place for black elites like Howard University? In the face of horrific disparities in educational achievement, employment options, health and safety disparities, racial-profiling, and rapidly expanding wealth inequality, there are still black american students that are not only qualified to attend and lead at elite institutions, and they have the where with all to acknowledge that in their role as students, they can advocate for others. what is wrong with this? I encourage folks to reset their “default” to dismiss the concerns of young black american college kids as insubstantial and the complaints of an entitled group of people. These folks are learning to lead, and are actively engaging in the process of their own education. We should hope that all of our children would show that kind of initiative.

  • Taq

    “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?”

    University of Michigan, after the third Black Action Movement–also advanced in large part by BSU leadership–created the model for need-based scholarships which you are familiar with today. A part of UM’s budget was allocated to The BSU specifically to advance these demands.

    There is a line in the agreement which agrees to increase the budget periodically for inflation. This was in 1987 and has not been exercised in the last 10 years at least.

    -Leaders and Best

  • Taq

    “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 BSU throws and sponsors events at Trotter AT LEAST twice per month, for AT LEAST the last 6 years. We probably have more wisdom on the quality and proximity of the building than you do.

  • Taq

    “…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.”

    In 1970, AS A DIRECT RESULT OF THE FIRST BLACK ACTION MOVEMENT–AGAIN, SPEARHEADED BY BSU EXECUTIVES…and no one seems to mind undermining students’ desire for American (read: White American) or European (read: White) history as early as, what, preschool, so…?

  • Taq

    “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.”

    Another 30+ year old demand that was agreed upon by the University in 1975, during the second Black Action Movement–again spearheaded by BSU leadership.

    So who hasn’t done their homework again??

    • Anthony Bradley

      It was also random in 1975. Why not 11% or 34%? Because it’s a random and arbitrary number. And in unconstitutional.

      • Taq

        it’s a starting point for a negotiation; if you read any of their statements, the word negotiation resounds, and also the Black population in Michigan at that time was around 12% and the idea was that UM as a public institution should not be so grossly below the state’s population, not purely arbitrary

        and I can’t believe you compared Michigan and Howard U

  • Nicky

    I am trying to understand why people feel that the University of Michigan strives to fit in with the rest of the country. The university has made itself prestigious based on its individuality. As University of Michigan students, we are the LEADERS & BEST, meaning that we make the first moves in innovation and educational & social advancement and others follow. We do not wish to sink into what the rest of the country already does. We wish to bring new things to awareness and our goal is to do things in the best way so that others know how it’s done. Not the other way around.

    Because there are so many inefficiencies within this country’s systems, I would prefer if we do not debunk others’ ideas by comparing them to what everybody else if forced to do. Clearly there is a problem with those who do not believe that there are advancements that can be made. I feel pity for those people because they sit around and follow the ignorance of others while we are individuals who are using our knowledge and resources to improve those systems that have been so corrupted with such ignorance. If there are issues with the demands, you have every right to express how they are flawed. However, do not think that your point had validity because you do not have the capacity to see them come into fruition.

  • Dave Michaels

    This post accurately addresses this situation from a fair, outside perspective and uses proper logic throughout. Hopefully the University of Michigan’s administration is reading.

  • John Paul Hampstead

    You might be interested to know that the entire student body has voted to support the #BBUM movement’s meetings with the UM administration.

  • Michael Sincere Wood

    This article is absurd in so many different ways. Although I am not a Michigan student I am a Eastern Michigan University student and frequently find myself in Ann Arbor. Ypsilanti, EMU, Ann Arbor, and UofM, has a race and class issue that is permeated in the culture and environment . The issues we face at these institutions clearly reflect that. Simply transferring to an all black school does not change nor address the problems at hand. This article was more than offensive, it was ignorant.

  • qxrevolution

    Your article shows that you know nearly nothing about the institutional structure and history of the University of Michigan. What made you think that you knew enough to write this piece? And what made you write it without doing the research that would be necessary to critique the demands of the UMich BSU?