The University of Michigan Black Student Union Calls Out Racial Inequality

On Nov. 1st, the University of Michigan Black Student Union (BSU) took to the University diag, calling out the University’s treatment of Black students, including the University’s low Black student enrollment rate. 

In a public demonstration titled “More Than Four”, members of BSU detailed their experiences with racism on campus and presented their four-point proposal of the same name. According to BSU, the “More Than Four” proposal consists of four interconnected points:

  1. Increasing Black Student Enrollment
  2. Explicitly Combating Anti-Blackness
  3. Rectifying the structural flaws of DEI that systemically neglect Black students
  4. The University’s Social Responsibility to Invest in the Public Good Through K-12 Education

In the proposal, BSU states, “We believe all students deserve equitable access to the opportunity to pursue higher education at the University of Michigan. We believe that students should not come up against systemic barriers and opportunity gaps that systematically exclude them from being competitive applicants for the University.”

“Black students are historically and currently disproportionately under-resourced,” said Kayla Tate, speaker for BSU. “They’re not given a fair opportunity to be a competitive applicant. The university needs to recognize that and reconcile that and invest in closing those gaps that black students face.”

In 2021, the percentage of Black students at The University of Michigan was less than 4.2%. This percentage has not changed since 1970.

In the proposal, the BSU states, “The Black Student Union’s historical demand of 10%, to match the Black state population at the time, has never been met. Our Black student population has steadily decreased since 2013 and will continue to decrease unless urgent action is taken.”

Tate, a senior at the University of Michigan, states that she would like the University of Michigan’s Black student population to match the state of Michigan’s Black population at 14%.

According to BSU vice-speaker Taylor Smith, the goal of BSU’s “More Than Four” demonstration was to highlight the inequities that Black students face. 

“We decided to do a public address versus your traditional protest, to open up and have a conversation with the university,” Smith said. “I’m sharing our voice before going into any forward movement to show seriousness and elevate the black voice. That’s a big thing on campus because, in past years, the Black voice has been silenced or ignored.”

In addition to the current targets addressed in the “More Than Four” presentation, BSU states they want to create a better environment throughout the University. Addressing cultural isolation and tokenism, two topics Tate says Black students face regularly. 

“We don’t see ourselves often reflected on this campus,” Tate said. “There’s often not stuff culturally relevant to us. These things all contribute to our experience here on campus, that campus climate, and we know that those things are cyclical to how well we’re able to perform here. Feelings of isolation and belonging, directly contribute to how students perform, and that’s across the board for all students.”

When discussing their end goals, Tate states that BSU wants to create a long-term sustainable structure for its four-point goals.

Tate states that she would like for students to have more decision-making power.  

“Students are here for about four to five years. Once this group of students is gone, if it’s not passed on, and if there aren’t structures in place to continue in the work then that oftentimes dies out,” Tate said. “We’re trying to avoid that by creating structures and processes of sustainability that are equitable. That is one of our goals for the longer term. And then the other is improving the lives of black students now.”

Members of University of Michigan Black Student Union address the public at the University of Michigan diag. Photo provided by University of Michigan Black Student Union.

Following the “More Than Four” event, Tate confirmed that BSU has set up a meeting with University of Michigan President Santa Ono. 

Smith states BSU will wait until after they meet with President Ono before deciding their next steps. 

“He (Ono) was pretty responsive to us and our platform. Quicker than we expected,” Smith said. “We’re looking forward to that meeting. So we’re in the preparation process for that specifically.”

Tate, however, states no matter the meeting outcome, multiple meetings between BSU and the university will be necessary to meet their long-term goals.

“I want to emphasize that this work will not be completed this year,” Tate said. “But that is not to absolve the urgency of it and the ways in which the university can and should act now.”