In 1970, 34 years ago, the Black Action Movement shut down the campus of the University of Michigan. They had simple requests for the University, asking that the balance of African American students and administrators at the school proportionately reflect the 10% balance in the state at the time. They also wanted better support for minority students, including a recruiter for Chicano students and a Black Student Center, and the establishment of a Black studies program. At the time progress seem to be made, but 34 years later it is back to square one, at least at U of M.
Today, students at University of Michigan have once again felt the need to come together to force administrators to hear their voice and change their ways. On Monday, shortly after students attended a speech given by respected civil rights activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte, the Black Students Union moved forward with a movement called Being Black at University of Michigan (#BBUM). The group is demanding that the school improve the quality of life on campus.
“What brings me here today is not that social action is done,” junior Robert Greenfield, the Black Student Union treasurer told the crowd. “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 unfinished business Greenfield refers to includes a list of seven demands that the BBUM says must be met or else “physical actions” will be taken. The group’s seven demands were read by senior Erick Gavin are as follows:
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.
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.
We demand an opportunity to congregate and share our experiences in a new Trotter [Multicultural Center] located on central campus.
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.
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.
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.
We demand an increase in black representation on this campus equal to 10 percent.
Currently, the black representation of the freshman class is 4.8%, which is down from 6.8% in 2008, meanwhile African-Americans no make up over 14% of the states population. Of the 4.8%, many of the students are athletes, and the percentages for faculty are even worse.
In response to the protest and the comments of the Black Student Union leaders, the university released this statement:
“Provost Pollack’s message to the University community last Thursday provided an outline of very specific steps. University officials at the highest level share the concerns of our students, faculty and staff. This morning you heard President Coleman reiterate the short-term action the university has taken, and the long-term commitment to continue to talk with students as well as work with them to address their concerns.”
While those words have promise, one has to wonder how much longer students have to wait to attain equality at the school. So far, it’s 34 years and counting.