Courtesy of Black Student Union
There is a staggering disparity between the demographics of UM-Flint and those of the city in which it resides, leaving many students feeling under-represented.
While the city of Flint is majority black, with 53.7% of the population identifying as black or African American according to the US Census Bureau, UM-Flint does not reflect the same levels of diversity. Only 12.6% of all enrolled students are African American.
Brooklyn Golden, a UM-Flint student and president of the Black Student Union, feels uncomfortable with the reality of those numbers.
“Being a resident of Flint, [it feels] like I’m a minority in my own city,” Golden said.
Golden thinks that UM-Flint simply doesn’t do enough to recruit from Flint high schools, something she believes would bring in more black students.
“I feel as though they don’t truly care enough to get Flint residents because they say that our scores are too low. But there are programs such as the Promise Scholar Program that helps students that have low GPAs, SAT [and] ACT scores,” said Golden. “I just feel as though it’s a lack of care, it’s a lack of empathy.
Students of color, specifically black students, often feel isolated.
“I can be in a class with 18 to 25 people and I’m the only African American,” said Golden. “I kind of feel like the token. I don’t want to feel like that. I shouldn’t have to feel that way.”
David Luke, PhD, interim campus diversity officer and director of the Intercultural Center, is working hard to close the racial gap at UM-Flint.
“We should look more like the city that we’re in,” said Luke.
When looking at graduation rates within the last six years at UM-Flint, black students graduate at a rate of 41% compared to white students, who graduate at a rate of 44%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“When I look at retention, graduation rate gaps, those are institutional failures or opportunities. I don’t look at those as individual failures [of students],” said Luke.
Luke works in conjunction with administrators and advises them on how to make diversity a factor in new and ongoing projects. He is working closely with Chancellor Deba Dutta, who is spearheading UM-Flint’s Project 2020 campaign.
The project is a five-year plan to stimulate the growth of the university. It mainly focuses on increasing recruitment, retention and graduation rates as well as developing a new School of Technology.
“I see the School of Technology as an effort to train workers for the new economy. So Flint is unlikely to have a bunch of auto manufacturing jobs again the way that it did 40 years ago.
But maybe there are more jobs in tech and engineering fields,” said Luke.
This new School of Technology will, in Luke’s opinion, make UM-Flint a more viable option to Flint kids. Rather than going to a university out of the city, they might gravitate toward earning a degree in their own backyard that is relevant to today’s economy.
“I see diversity, equity and inclusion infused in Project 2020,” said Luke.
However, the project isn’t aimed at diversity specifically. There is no consensus yet on if it will be able to bring in more black students to the university.
Anthony Fisher, a black student at UM-Flint and Flint native, believes there isn’t much administrators can do to directly bring in more black students. However, he thinks expanding current scholarships like Ann Arbor’s Go Blue Guarantee will encourage more black students to enroll.
The Go Blue Guarantee is a program implemented at UMICH that offers free tuition to all accepted students who come from homes making less than $65,000 per year. If implemented at UM-Flint, more than 75% of Flint families would be eligible, according to the Census Bureau.
“[The Go Blue Guarantee] will be a great way to bring in more students because I personally know a lot of people that were accepted here but couldn’t afford to go here from my high school. And it would bring in a lot more people from Flint,” said Fisher.
Golden thinks that a way to make campus more comfortable for black students is to implement racial sensitivity training for faculty and staff. BSU is currently pushing for this training, modeled on the Sexual Assault Prevention Module.
“If the administration all the faculty and staff could show that they cared about how we feel and our experience here as much as student groups do, I think we can truly have a diverse and inclusive campus. We can make this, you know, the best campus that it could possibly be,” said Golden.
In Luke’s views, a more diverse and inclusive campus would encourage more students to come and stay until graduation. He also believes that diverse groups of people are better at solving problems because they will be “informed by different identities and life experiences and get a fuller picture of complex problems.”
“There’s a number of rationales for making the campus more diverse. It’s the right thing to do.
We have the name Flint and so people in Flint should feel like this is their university,” said Luke. “But beyond that, there are financial benefits. So for us to … be a better institution, becoming more diverse is in our best interest.”