How MSU deals with decade-old affirmative action ban
How can an institution like MSU keep its mission to ensure the diversity of its student body if it can’t see most demographic information on a student’s application? That’s the mission some MSU officials have been on for the past decade, when Michigan voters decided just that.
In 2006, Michigan residents voted to place a ban on affirmative action for Michigan colleges and universities, meaning schools could no longer make student admission decisions based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin. A little more than 10 years after the proposal passed, the effects of the ban still impact MSU students and largely impact minority students.
While opinions of the affirmative action ban can vary, in terms of , it has more of a solidified meaning.
“It’s simply legislation that was approved by the state of Michigan voters that said under Proposition 2 that race, gender and ethnic origin are not factors that can be considered in the holistic review of a student’s credentials in making admissions decisions,” Jim Cotter, director for MSU’s Office of Admissions, said.
Historically, campus registered student organizations, or RSOs, have been against the affirmative action ban. against Proposal 2, the affirmative action ban legislation. Groups like the Asian Pacific American Student Organization, the Black Student Alliance, the Women’s Council, the Alliance of Bisexual, Gay, Transgender and Straight Ally Students and the Culturas de las Razas Unidas, or CRU, were active at the rally.
However, even though the proposal was passed and Michigan college admissions offices can’t see a student’s race, ethnicity and gender on the applications, schools still have the potential to make assumptions about these things.
Oftentimes, a student’s name can be an indicator of their sex, race and ethnicity, so it’s not impossible for schools with affirmative action bans to work around the ban to try and diversify their incoming classes.
“I mean, name is certainly in the credential,” Cotter said. “We have to depend on the ethical decisions made by our admissions committee that that can’t be a factor in the admissions decision.”
Admissions offices also know some socioeconomic factors about students, but this information couldn’t be used to tell admissions about a student’s sex or race or ethnicity, Cotter said. Family income, the number of people in the family, the education level of parents, whether a student is a first-generation college student and what high school a student comes from are all factors listed on a student’s application.
“We know what high school a student comes from,” Cotter said. “Do we know the makeup of that high school? Perhaps, but that doesn’t in the individual review suggest that that student is a student of color or suggest that that student is a disadvantaged student or whatever the case might be.”
One issue the affirmative action ban does not address is recruiting, Cotter said. The university is not prohibited from aggressively recruiting based on gender, race and ethnicity, but it simply cannot use gender, race and ethnicity in making admissions decisions, so the university attempts to appeal to diverse groups in this way.
“The one thing I think is critically important is the legislation does not diminish Michigan State’s commitment and understanding of the importance of diversity,” Cotter said. “It is a critical component in who we are, what we are as an institution and it really is ingrained — diversity is ingrained in the mission of Michigan State as a land grant institution.”
A stagnant graduation rate
Another issue that has plagued universities for years is graduation rates among students. While the overall graduation rate for MSU students has hovered at about 80 percent for the past seven years, minority students, specifically African Americans, are graduating at much lower rates.
The graduation rate for black students has been, on average, 20 percent lower than the overall university average during the last seven years. , during the past seven years, the graduation rate for black students has been approximately 58 percent compared to the overall university average of 78 percent for the same length of time.
Dr. R. Sekhar Chivukula, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of undergraduate studies, said while MSU is committed to helping all students succeed, the lower graduation rate is something to be concerned about.
“We actually have an overall graduation rate that’s 10 or 11 points higher than you might predict, but we’re not satisfied with that,” Chivukula said. “I don’t think these rates are unusual, but that doesn’t mean we’re satisfied with them. We want to make sure everyone who enters MSU is able to succeed and that’s really the bottom line for us.”
Chivukula also said these rates are indicators MSU is not adequately addressing the needs of the state of Michigan and is not helping all students succeed at an equal or high enough rate.
“The president and the provost have made it clear that the — what we call the opportunity gap — those differences in graduation rates is unacceptable, and we are working to institute programs to try to make sure that we can really address those differences and correct them,” Chivukula said.
Programs at MSU
Project 60/50 is one university program that attempts to recognizes differences within the MSU community. The program was officially started in 2014 after almost two years of conversation about the program. Its name comes from the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The year 2014 marked the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.
The project involved creating events and spaces for discussion about civil and human rights issues, like race, and its success in 2014 helped carry it into the present. The project included community events in East Lansing and the Lansing area as well.
“Project 60/50 represented an opportunity to create meaningful conversations on a range of topics that broadly fall within the context of civil and human rights,” Paulette Granberry Russell, senior adviser to the president for diversity and director for the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, said.
While the project was much more active in 2014, the platform is still in use. Some current MSU events still have the 60/50 designation, like .
“What we attempted to do with 60/50 was create an environment where we could elevate opportunities for people to have sometimes what we call ‘difficult dialogues,’ or conversations on a range of topics that impact civil and human rights,” Granberry Russell said.
Part of the goal was to create a conversation about issues of racial diversity.
“The legacy of 60/50 is the conversations and the dialogues around the issues that sometimes are difficult for us to engage in because they may be on topics that not everyone is comfortable in engaging (in),” Granberry Russell said. “Creating a space where people can engage in the dialogue, to ask the questions, to enter into debate in a civil way, in a civil and respectful way even when we fundamentally disagree with each other, that’s what 60/50 is all about.”
There has been more of a move away from the Project 60/50 umbrella since its kickoff year in 2014. Events for discussion and reflection and on campus are expanding from issues of civil and human rights and are looking at issues in a broader sense, Granberry Russell said.
“The community, for the most part, led the opportunities,” she said. “It was almost like a grassroots need. It wasn’t like this office or Student Affairs said, ‘We’re doing this, you’re all going to come.’ It was really the community itself asking for the opportunity for this space.”
But less of an active 60/50 program does not mean racial issues won’t be discussed elsewhere on campus. Granberry Russell said events are now striving to build inclusive communities. This would promote engagement and openness on campus.
The hope is the programs MSU puts on will create a space for people to feel comfortable and to discuss issues that aren’t always the most comfortable to talk about. Those who put the events on aim to solve the problems that come along with the affirmative action ban and graduation rates. They hope to create a space of inclusion for people of all backgrounds.
“One of (MSU’s) core values is inclusion,” Granberry Russell said. “You can’t just declare that we’re an inclusive community. You have to engage in that work almost on a daily basis to communicate to all who are here. You know, you belong here, regardless of how you identify, regardless of your politics, regardless of your faith or your absence of faith. That this environment, this campus community, is for you.”