Office of the Vice President for Student Life
Fireside Chat of December 11th, 2013
President Coleman: Hello! How are all of you doing? Well, welcome! Let’s get it started. These chats are just open, relaxed places for all of you guys to get to ask us questions or tell us how you’re feeling about campus and I’m looking forward to it.
Vice President Harper: Me too! Ok, who would like to start us off?
Capri’Nara (Cap): Hello, my name is Capri’Nara, but you can call me Cap- most of my friends do. I’m a sophomore in the Sports Management program here and a member of the Black Student Union and I wanted to ask you both about how you felt about the #BBUM campaign that we launched and the reasons behind it- student experiences in the classroom, the fact that black males are overrepresented in athletics, and other issues. I know the university replied saying you all are listening but we don’t really feel that way and so I am wondering how did you feel about the campaign and what did you get out of it?
President Coleman: It was really a wake up call. It was very sobering and, although we have been working on some things around the issues, it really renewed our effort to work on it and reminded us we still have much more work to do. Overall though, it was really… arresting... and sobering for me.
Vice President Harper: I don’t tweet- I’m not a twitterer, but I was compelled to get on it because of the campaign. I can say that the Provost has already been having some conversations with students and faculty since the Freeze Out on the Diag in August. We’ve also been looking at the tweets and have been categorizing the conversations and finding good examples to theme them so we can find solutions- so we can see what work we need to do. So I say all of this to say that I don’t think that the tweet from the University meant a passive listening at all. We have really focused our attention around getting these issues solved because our students are hurting.
President Coleman: Exactly, and we are trying to figure out strategies of what will work best and its taking time but we are definitely hearing what is happening loud and clear and working on it.
Vice President Harper: We have also had several leadership conversations about the numbers and climate underrepresented students are facing and are trying to think about short-term and long-term strategies and thinking about how to organize ourselves to have a community conversation instead of these isolated ones that are happening now because the challenge is a collective challenge, its effects the entire community.
Zeinab: Hello, my name is Zeinab, I first wanted to thank you, Vice President Harper, for the invitation today. I had a question about the UMMockEviction campaign that had come up and really wanted to focus on its root more so than the backlash since. My question is why does our university invest in unjust companies; why do we continue to invest despite their harmful impacts?
President Coleman: In the history of the university, divestment is a rare occurrence. We have to be very thoughtful and understand that when we make a decision like that it reflects on everyone affiliated with the university. What we try to do then, because of differing opinions, is we try to encourage respectful debate around topics like this around campus. We have only divested broadly twice because overwhelming support must be there and that doesn’t happen often. We have a very well publicized investment strategy as well and because of the gravity our decision to invest or divest can have we don’t do anything like that lightly- even with passionate students.
Vice President Harper: The university has a website which has a layout of resources for what needs to be done if you want the us to engage in a different set of actions, such as divestment from a company or companies. Really it is one of the places where we are the clearest about what work needs to be done to get us to change our position. I think that this university and our community and our students have a history of giving voice to their passions and getting the work done and the university has a history of responding to it. What we don’t have a history of is disengaging from the students or the work we do.
President Coleman: The two examples of when the university has actually divested were South Africa and we divested from the tobacco industry- so if you want to look into those cases as well those are the times it has happened.
Diversity, Inclusion, and Responsibility
Hayley: Hi, my name is Hayley and I am a senior this year. Thank you both for your time and the invitation. I just wanted to jump off of the #BBUM idea- I think every student is failed when they get to walk with blinders on and I see that happening a lot at the university right now-
President Coleman: Really quickly- I’m sorry I didn’t mean to cut you off- but we have been very proud of our diversity in the past and it is something our alumni have honored about their time at Michigan. In my many talks with alumni it is always something they say they valued so we can’t ignore it and it is a commitment we have to live up to. I’m sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off there but just thought of that and really wanted to say that.
Hayley: Its no problem. But, yeah, I think there is a lot of diversity here- of course not enough- but had I not stumbled upon it I would have never found it and I think considering how to raise awareness, institutionally, is crucial, whether that’s by making the Race & Ethnicity requirement more rigorous or closer tied to identity, or what but something more should be done so students can’t walk around with blinders on.
Cap: A part of my role with the Black Student Union is research and we’ve found a lot of issues with relation to this issue- like the fact that black males make up the most of our athletes, the overall lack of black students on campus, etc. But you can’t compare the diversity our alumni had to diversity now because they are very different environments. For instance, what is happening with the punishment of Theta Xi? Why is it every time there’s a crime alert its a vague description that somehow always seems to target black males despite missing other information? Why is it that Michigan State can get a high percentage of African American students? The University of Michigan capitalizes on its black students. So what are your views on institutionalized racism that is here?
Vice President Harper: Let me say, I think all the “-ism” are alive and well on this campus and in that respect it’s not very different from much of the world. Things were very different when I went here and we have fought- all the way to the Supreme Court- so we wouldn’t be here, where we are now. I’ve spoken with DPS about how crimes are reported and we have done some of that work with students as well. In regards to Theta, there is a long process that the university, at many levels, has been working on. To speak to your athletic piece- writ large- that is a national stereotype and reality- and I don’t disagree with your assesment. My worry- though- is how do we hear the truth and speak it so that it does not discourages other from coming here; hear it and do this work in a way that does not discourage enrollment of new students. Also, while State may have a higher percentage of black students, we also have to consider retention and graduation rates between us and State, which are very different. All this is to say, there’s a lot of work we are doing but we still have a lot of work to do.
Cap: Do you think that the university is at fault? A lot of this work could have been solved in the 70’s when the university guaranteed to keep enrollment of black students at 10%.
Vice President Harper: So what’s legally possible is very different between now and the 70’s. Had we done all possible work you could think of that we may not have, we would still be here because the law restricts our efforts and what they can be. We have to make a decision about what we are prepared for collectively and how to do it, and prior to Prop 2 even we were hustling and still had work to do, but it was a lot more possible- which doesn't mean easy- but possible. Where we are, yes, we can do better but it will take a lot of work.
Hayley: I think the institutional commitment will be shown through the resources provided to try and make this happen, which we have to some respect but, as you have said, we can and need to do better and perhaps give more.
Alanna: Hello! My name is Alanna. I am a Sophomore poli-sci major. I think one of the problems is becoming included. I really felt that way in summer bridge, felt that all the black students were separate and in many ways it made students stick with their “in-group”, which more or less was based on race.
President Coleman: So perhaps one thing we could work on is orchestrating these interactions much earlier for students.
David: Hi, I’m David, I’m a sophomore. My experience, for me, it doesn't seem about the enrollment, sort of like what Alanna was saying, but about our experiences being different just because we’re black. For example, I’m a member of IASA and I never really paid attention to the jokes about being brown that got thrown around until during one rehearsal someone said to be that I was officially a “brown person”, and I realized that it was them putting a barrier between them and black students. The worst part was that they weren't aware of that as an issue but it drastically changed my experiences.
President Coleman: Have you ever been able to talk about it with your org?
David: No, I haven't yet. I think we need more ways to express our experiences. As an African-American male I’ve found that conversations about privilege are hard for the person with it. For example, I was just talking with a female friend of mine and she was describing what it’s like to be a woman and the oppression that identity faces and it was hard for me to see it from the her side because of the lack of those experiences. It’s really hard for the privileged to see the problems because of the lack of those experiences.
Vice President Harper: That is very understandable. Where President Coleman and I are trying to be today, because of where we sit, we see it different and I’m fighting, resisting, giving you info to help you understand and we have to walk carefully between hearing and respecting and adding enough to not be irresponsible, because there may be some work you all don’t know about and it can be hard when its not the students. But there’s a benefit of the doubt we have to give each other and everyone, really.
Elkena: Hi, my name is Elkena, I’m a Sophomore in Ross and I just wanted to say that before #BBUM I wasn’t as aware of the issue on campus because I worked in corporate america this past summer on an internship and it was really the same there so I have to say that I’m not as concerned because I know this is how it after the University of Michigan and in a lot of ways, the university has prepared me for that.
President Coleman: Well, thank you, but our desire is really to make the experience positive, not necessarily to have you hardened up for the outside world, but I am glad you are getting something out of the experiences and congratulations on the internship!
Diversity in Applications vs. Enrollment
Brianna: Hi, my name is Brianna, I am a Freshman who is from out of state- from New Orleans
President Coleman: Oh, that’s wonderful! What made you select Michigan? We’re very glad you did, I hope that didn’t sound otherwise (laughs)
Bri: I wanted to do a dual degree with business and art and Michigan was one of the best schools for that so I came (laughs). One thing I did look at when I applied though was the percentage of black students. I know back at home it is very very segregated- not necessarily racially but segregated more so by income, and the poor tend to be black and so, for me, seeing the difference between black students here was really interesting. But I am really curious as to why enrollment is so low? Is it ACT scores, cause I know in my hometown they are very low, on average? Aren’t we reaching out across the US, though?
President Coleman: Our applicant numbers are actually on the rise. We have been having a hard time convincing students to come though and part of that is that we are handcuffed in many ways. For instance, we can’t have race-based scholarships given by the University, so using those as a recruitment tool have hurt us as well. Our alumni have stepped up in that regard with scholarships such as the LEAD scholarships, which since they are a separate organization they can sponsor students based on race. A major part of our challenge is we have a perception problem and we really need to do something about this and about the scholarships we can offer students, which is a major part of the capital campaign. I’m encouraged by the number applicants and acceptance rates we have, however that being said, we have not been successful with conversion.
Alexis: Hi President Coleman, my name is Alexis. I am a Sophomore applying to the Ford School and I had one question. As you transition out, what goals do you have for the incoming President as you leave and how can students help hold our new leader to those goals?
President Coleman: Well, as you all know this is my 12th year as President and I am retiring. I think in my time here we have done a lot of things well, thinking of some metrics of success like graduation rates, successfulness after graduation and we have had other tremendous improvements over time and we are still getting better. With that in mind, I think it is important for us to offer many experiences to put your learning to work! We want you to have internships and international experiences- those are the things that will be extra important in the coming years. We also want to provide opportunities and we want to be even more accessible; understanding the worries about cost and find ways to help such as with the Victors for Michigan campaign right now to raise aid and we want to keep those going and I am confident they will continue.
How “U” go into Detroit
Alexis (same as above): So, as a follow up, since you mentioned experiential learning, I feel as though the university sees Detroit as a go to for that and in some ways Detroit being exploited. It seems as though students only see Detroit as needing help and I would argue there are also other areas here that need help too and I would like the University to consider expanding those opportunities as well.
President Coleman: I agree and I think as we try to offer more and more opportunities, other opportunities to learn in Detroit and closer to Ann Arbor can open up as well.
A Hot Seat
Cap: Quick aside, can we heat the bus stops at C.C. Little? (laughs) No, I’m serious! I stay on Central really late most nights for student org events and thing like that and have to wait 30-45 minutes for a bus in the freezing cold. I, and I’m sure others as well, would like to be a little bit more warm if that’s possible.
Vice President Harper: Michael, did you get that in the notes? (laughs)
Michael: I most certainly did, and I echo her request.
Catherine: I had a quick question about how funding works for different schools at the University, specifically within the arts. My name is Catherine, sorry, I’m a Sophomore in Dance. I was asking because we have lack of quality facilities and so I was curious as to how funding works and how we could get more towards that purpose and I was wondering what can I do to help?
President Coleman: So the schools get to keep their revenue for tuition, they only have to pay a small tax, and in that sense they are very entrepreneurial. As a whole, the University has had to prioritize where the worst facilities are and try to fix them in order. In regards to the Dance facilities there are a few people ahead of you- I think biology and the dental school have big issues- but we do know and you are definitely on the list. But we are trying to prioritize needs and fix them as we can and really thinking about the best ways to optimize the spaces we have. The university is a gigantic space and keeping all of it up to date is hard.
Vice President Harper: So, really quickly I want to talk about 6 things we are definitely doing. Next fall we will be holding workshops for social identity work for all incoming students. We are also expanding IGR to be available beyond LS&A, we are having conversations now about adding IGR to the Race & Ethnicity requirement and discussion creating a minor around IGR’s work. President Coleman is having a meeting soon- ending her career as she started it- to talk about finding resources to renovate trotter and to work on the visioning to fundraise and to look for space and facilities for a new trotter including thinking about long-term strategy. So those are things that are happening as of right now.
David: I also want to ask about perhaps increasing the number of programs in Hindi. Just today I went on CEGIS and there were 4 programs, none of which had Hindi as a requisite or even a part of them. Is there a way the university or myself could take some initiative to make studying abroad in India happen?
President Coleman: I actually just came back from India. We are trying to figure out how to build relationships in India for our students. While I was there, I signed some agreements- one was with a very interest new initiative with Ashoka University, which will be a small liberal arts school in India that Indian philanthropists funded to increase Indian students access to liberal arts education. It will be starting in the fall and we want to have an exchange program with them so I’m looking forward to that starting as well. Another experience I had the chance to learn about from the Vice Chancellor of Delhi University, which is their version of a President, is that every year they take 1000 students on a train trip around the route Gandhi took. The students live on the train and will then get off at certain stops and explore the path of Gandhi. So hopefully those will be opportunities in the future!
Student Voice and Inclusion- Trotter Multicultural Center
Jeremy: Hi, my name is Jeremy, I am a Senior majoring in Actuarial Math. I was just wondering- because we keep hearing about how things are in the works and that plans being made- are students being included in the plans and planning?
Vice President Harper: In short, yes. Nina Grant in MESA and at Trotter has been working with some graduate students and a couple undergrads, There is also a student organization, A New Trotter, who are talking about the updates now and one thing we asked them was if we had money and a space now- thinking about both how it is now and where its going- what would we do?
President Coleman: Are you volunteering? (laughs)
Jeremy: Most definitely, if there is an opportunity!
Vice President Harper: We have met with students who organized the freeze out, the three students who filed the complaint around Theta, and faculty as well. A part of challenge is that there have been a lot of individual conversations about these things so one thing we are thinking about is holding forums at Trotter to talk about vision as well.
Jeremy: Can I make a suggestion?
President Coleman and Vice President Harper: yes, please.
Jeremy: It’s probably not best to have the forums at Trotter. I know personally I have been to Trotter maybe 3 times in my years here and a lot of people don’t even know where Trotter is at.
Vice President Harper: Thank you for letting us know! See these are the types of things we need to know about!
Eberichi: Hi! I’m Eberichi, I’m a sophomore in LS&A. Is one of the targets for the campaign Trotter then?
President Coleman: With the Campaign we are trying to raise $4 billion and what we’ve said to people is that while we’re in the campaign our emphasis is on people more so than buildings and the response has been tremendous- people are stepping up! However, the focus of it is more so on support and people more so than facilities.
The Library Business
Semaj: Hi, my name is Semaj, I am a Sophomore in the business school and I know we are building a new library but it will require ours to close for about 2-3 years and I was just wondering what we are we going to do to keep that atmosphere for students?
President Coleman: I know the Dean has been trying to work on a plan to keep the experience a positive one for students- including if some classes have to be moved- but beyond that I don’t know much about the project. I will tell you I know they are working on it.
Arianna: Hi! My name is Arianna. I work for Dean Laura Blake Jones and one of the big topics that comes up and that I know she is really working on is student health and wellness, so places like CAPS and UHS, and one issue that keeps coming up is that it takes forever to get an appointment- often weeks even- and often students have dealt with their issue by then. Is there anything being done in regard to those wait times?
Vice President Harper: The Provost has given money for more counselors- starting on North and we have tried to respond to common concerns a lot of students are facing and the number one issue is anxiety right now- not depression- and we have heard that the wait is three days for those appointments. We have been trying to work on CAPS because the term is so short, students can’t wait for weeks for help so we are pressing hard to make these more effective for students.
President Coleman: Ok, so we have to wrap up now. I usually try to stay after but I am afraid I have another meeting I have to run to. Thank you all dearly for coming and telling us how you feel!