Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Vote no to keep academic doors open!

As a professional woman who is committed to do everything I can to advance the educational opportunities in this community, I find myself troubled and moved to respectfully address the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative to be decided upon by voters in November. With many public educational institutions formally voting to stay out of the public discourse, I feel their position is a great disservice to the students and would-be students of every academic institution in the state of Michigan, and most certainly a disservice to the Flint community being served by educational professionals.

It was not that long ago when females, African Americans and other minorities were largely missing from the classrooms at MCC, UM-Flint and Kettering University. In our lifetimes, we have seen the academic doors swing open to invite those underrepresented populations into our academic environments. Today, as but one example, MCC’s student body is comprised of roughly 60 percent female, 19 percent African American. We have created many successful programs to draw and retain those students. Their alumni database is now in the thousands. There are professionals throughout the world who proudly say that MCC provided the educational foundation for their success. It is gratifying to know that the doors are finally open and that so many are now able to walk through them and obtain the knowledge and training they need to be viable citizens in an ever changing world.

But, in truth, I am troubled as well. While we have made important advancements in providing educational opportunities, we have so much further to go in meeting the community needs for advanced education. In a city with a majority African American population, our student body is far from reflecting the demographics of our community. The truth is, if socioeconomically challenged individuals – many who are African American or Hispanic - are not taking classes at MCC, they are likely not taking classes at all.

Further, MCC is located in the most segregated city in Michigan; the ninth most segregated in the nation. To ignore that fact is to close our eyes to a hideous flaw in the very fabric of everything MCC does in this community. The efforts of the MCC Board of Trustees to date have shown that they are sensitive if not concerned about this very thing.

I firmly believe that MCC and the other academic institutions should very publicly take a stand against the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. I believe their leadership in this area will resonate throughout the community and beyond. I applaud President Mary Sue Coleman of The University of Michigan in her continued vocalizations about the impact the initiative will have at that world class institution. Her message is loud and clear – she will do everything she can to provide a diverse learning environment, to prepare UM students with real life situations of interacting with people from every nation and color.

I believe we should do the same. With projections indicating that the initiative will pass, therefore banning affirmative action efforts in Michigan, now is the time to voice our concerns. If the proposal passes, it will close doors in every public college and university in the state. It would close the door to programs that encourage young women to study science, math, engineering and business, not just at MCC, but throughout the state. It would close the door to programs that encourage underrepresented minority students to seek the highest possible academic achievements. And it would close the door to resources, including many forms of financial aid for college, to these same groups—women and minorities alike.

We must continue to provide the means of a truly diverse institution and prepare our students for life beyond the classroom. I firmly believe a diverse student body is essential to a robust and successful education. Our academic institutions must continue to do its part in providing American leaders who are prepared to guide us through our increasingly diverse and global future.

I will close with this: Within a 2½ mile radius are four prominent educational institutions including MCC, with enrollments in excess of 20,000 full and part-time students. Flint has the opportunity to redefine itself as a center of excellence in higher education. We cannot stand by and allow the doors of opportunity to swing shut on our citizenry. To my knowledge, no college has officially vocalized the certain negative impact of the proposal.

I urge every person associated with every academic institution to consider such a stance on behalf of our respective student bodies and on behalf of our community. We are sorely in need of your leadership in promoting the strength and necessity of a truly diverse student body and worldclass work force.

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