Michigan Student Groups Target Minorities

This story was written by Sara Lynne Thelen, Michigan Daily

Britney Littles, vice president of the University of Michigan's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said that the group will amp up its tutoring of minority high school students from the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas to help them prepare for college.

More difficult than teaching ACT or SAT preparation, she said, will be convincing them that college is within their reach. Since the statewide ban on gender- and race-based affirmative action, she said, many minority high school students don't consider the University a plausible option.

"We tell them that these things aren't really the end-all-be-all, but they don't think they can get accepted now," she said.

Because of the 2006 race- and gender-based affirmative action ban, student organizations that minority middle and high school students are refashioning their activities on the University's campus and in high schools across the state.

Erica Sanders, the director of recruitment operations at the University's Office of Undergraduate Admissions - which often assists student groups in contacting prospective applicants to the University - said her office is working with a "broader spectrum" of student organizations than it did before the ban. Admissions officers worked with about 10 percent of the approximately 1,100 student organizations on campus before the ban. Sanders said she wasn't sure exactly how many more student organizations her office will work with in the fall.

Sanders, who recently met with Michigan Student Assembly president Sabrina Shingwani to discuss student organization and OUA collaborations, said she couldn't estimate the number of students working with the admissions office in minority recruitment efforts, but that student participation and interest has definitely increased.

"We have not been met with concerns, just students who want to be involved," she said.

LSA senior Eric Soto, former president of Sigma Lambda Beta, a multicultural fraternity, and an executive board member of the Latino Students Association, said the drop in Latino enrollment from 350 in 2007 to 200 in 2008 was a shock to the LSO.

As a result, Soto, a member of Assisting Latinos to Maximize Achievement, said that the emphasis of many student groups will switch from campus mentoring to high school recruiting.

"The question now is, 'How can we help these kids get to our campus?'" he said.

Soto added that encouraging minority recruitment remains more important than ever after the affirmative action ban because it inspires students who don't think that they can be admitted to universities.

"It helps if you see someone closer to you and they're able to achieve this," he said.

Conner Sandefur, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and co-chair of Native American Students Association, said the affirmative action ban has a markedly different effect on prospective Native American students.

"With the history of native students and the University, there certainly is that challenge unique to native people," he said, referring to a conflict between the University and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan over ancestral remains currently in the University's possession.

"We understand that Proposal 2 presents new challenges for us and I think as we move forward this summer and into the fall our discussions with the faculty and with different offices on campus, that we're doing our best with the situation we're in," Sandefur said.

Sandefur said NASA won't be changing its recruitment efforts in the wake of the affirmative action ban. The group will still contact high school counselorsto bring Native American high school students to campus to attend pre-college fairs about University admissions, financial aid and Native American events on campus during Native American Heritage Month in November.

LSA senior Rachel Moore, academic chair for Intellectual Minds Making a Difference, a campus community service organization that tutors underrepresented minority students in Detroit, said that the ban on affirmative action is an obstacle that her group will work hard to counteract.

Moore said IMMAD organizes weekly ACT-prep and mentoring sessions, hosts sleepovers at the University and organizes campus tours. The goal is to allow prospective students to envision themselves on campus and hear about college life from the group's members, she said.

"We simply try to improve their overall idea of college in general, as well as supporting the University of Michigan by encouraging those students to make the University of Michigan their No. 1 choice," Moore said in an e-mail interview.

Sanders said the admissions office will also encourage minority-focused organizations to expand beyond their target populations in recruitment efforts. While Sanders said she appreciated the work organizations were doing with small groups of middle and high school students, her office was encouraging them to work with types of students they haven't traditionally reached.

"Student organizations have a mission statement that specifically has goals that might be more narrowly focused, and we want to make sure that they have a broader focus to reach a greater variety of students," she said.

Sanders said the admissions office urged groups that make phone calls to students accepted from Detroit schools to also contact students from districts across the state.

Kenia Ruiz, who is also on the executive board of the Latino Students Organization, said that efforts to recruit minority high school students won't come at the expense of supporting minority students already on campus.

She said the group will continue to maintain a sense of cultural unity and belonging that the LSO and its programs have provided to Latino students in the past.

Soto said that while the affirmative action ban has lowered the number of underrepresented minority students on campus, its effects won't be entirely negative.

"Before Proposal 2, there was a sense of, 'you're only here because of affirmative action,'" Soto said, referring to the affirmative action ban. "Now, that can't be said."