BY YESHA CALLAHAN
JANUARY 21, 2014
A group of black students at the University of Michigan are making sure their voices are being heard. Last fall, the students started Being Black at University of Michigan (#BBUM) to air their grievances about the university’s lack of diversity and they’re desire for more inclusion.
Yesterday, after a speech by civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, the students amped up their protests and compiled a list of demands they want the university to follow through on.
“What brings me here today is not that social action is done,” junior Robert Greenfield, the Black Student Union treasurer, told a gathered crowd of about 75 people. “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 group’s seven demands were read by senior Erick Gavin:
- 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.
The same day of the protest, University President Mary Sue Coleman laid out her plan that she hopes will answer some of the issues addressed.
“After climbing a great hill, [Nelson Mandela] once said, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. That is the work of developing a diverse inclusive campus. It is ongoing, one victory at a time, with more hills to climb,” Coleman said, before Belafonte’s talk.
“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.”
But students are tired of hearing promises.
“We have heard the phrase ‘we are listening’ since 1970, and I am tired of waiting for a response,” senior Shayla Scales said. “… Without action, alternatively, we will be forced to engage as an entire community in ways to implement the changes we request. We will allow the university seven days to end negotiations and come to conclusions on our seven demands. If negotiations are not complete we 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.”
University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald issued the following statement in response to the demands from BBUM organizers: “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.”
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VOD editor: Coverage in today’s Detroit Free Press consisted of a main article on the reaction of Jennifer Gratz, the white student who was the lead plaintiff in the 2003 lawsuit to ban affirmative action at the state’s universities, and also a prominent supporter of Proposal 2. At least online, the Freep carried only a secondary article on the Black students’ protest itself.