Black student enrollment at Michigan universities has fallen since the state enacted a ban on affirmative action in 2006. The law has forced college administrators to seek other, sometimes less effective, means of boosting campus diversity and inclusion, even though studies show the ban has had a chilling effect on such efforts.

The University of Michigan has persevered, however, recently announcing its $85 million, five-year plan for creating a more equitable and diverse institution.

Students walk through the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, in Ann Arbor, Mich. The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Michigan’s ban on affirmative action enacted by voters in 2006. (AP Photo/Detroit Free Press, Ryan Garza)

“The future of our great university will be determined by how well we embrace the values of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said university President Mark Schlissel in recent remarks. “To live up to our full potential as a university, everyone must have the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, and our community can be complete only when all members feel welcome.

“Our dedication to academic excellence for the public good is inseparable from our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. We cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of that word,” he added.

The plan, culled over a year from more than 200 stakeholder engagement sessions, both live and web-based, comprises initiatives that fall into three overarching strategies:

  • Creating an inclusive and equitable campus.
  • Recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse university community.
  • Supporting innovation and inclusive scholarship and teaching.

Some of the initiatives include: A program for incoming freshmen to help assess and then develop skills for navigating cultural and other differences; enhanced educational programming for all new faculty on inclusive teaching methods; new outreach programs to recruit and retain a more diverse pool of students, faculty and staff, including partnerships with HBCUs and other minority serving institutions for increasing the pipeline of diverse graduate students for the university.

Michigan has long been ground zero in the affirmative action debate, as the AFRO previously reported., The anti-affirmative action Proposal 2, which Michigan voters supported 58 percent to 42 percent in the 2006 elections, was later invalidated by a federal appeals court, which cited the disadvantage posed to minorities. In April 2014, however, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and upheld the state’s affirmative action ban.

Though other lawsuits aimed at overturning affirmative action policies have been filed, several more schools, including Yale and Brown universities, have recently initiated plans aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion following nationwide student protests calling for more welcoming racial environments on college campuses.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO