(Tom Alexander / MJ)
(Tom Alexander / MJ)

BY KRIS BJORNBAK, Guest Writer

I started attending classes at the University of Michigan-Dearborn more years ago than is really necessary to admit for this article. Like so many students on this campus, my first few years here were spent in the commuter campus rat race of fighting to find a parking spot, running to class, running from class and returning home.

At the time it seemed like the only way to function here; everyone else was doing it and, after all, what was there to do at UM-Dearborn? Sure, there were always fliers up for events on campus and various student orgs to join, the Michigan Journal wrote about upcoming activities or the most recent goings-on around campus. But when did I have time to participate and really, who cared anyhow? What happened here in regards to student life did not affect me at all. I was in this University for my degree and that was it.

As a result, every day of every week for five semesters, I would get out of my car, put my head down, run to classes and back to my car so I could go home. Does this sound familiar to anyone? Yes, I was earning my degree but I was missing out on what really makes the University of Michigan-Dearborn a different and wonderful university. Some odd years later, I would be in a very different position. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Over the last two weeks there have been opinion pieces criticizing our university and how our “campus falls short” and how student leadership, as well as “those in charge of the students” have “diminished from…the little grandeur that we possessed.” I’m not blind to problems and I am not naive. I know that everything can always be improved upon and, likewise, that everything has its share of problems and issues. There are aspects of UM-Dearborn that, given the opportunity, I would change in a heartbeat. But then again, I would do that regarding most anything in life and who wouldn’t?

However, I do not feel that any of these issues are as terrible as some in recent weeks would have us believe. Unlike the articles of the last two weeks, this one will paint a very different picture of campus life at UM-Dearborn. To borrow a quote from the Michigan Journal’s Editor in Chief’s article in the April 10th edition, the “UM-Dearborn campus now has a larger student to organization ratio than the UM-Ann Arbor campus.” That does not seem like a campus that has lost its grandeur to me. On the contrary, we seem to be one that has just begun to reach our potential and we are excelling towards a greater goal all the time.

There are many wonderful aspects of life at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. One I would like to focus on is that, unlike the unfair articles published by our fellow students in the last weeks’ Michigan Journal, we do pull off some amazing events. Granted, we did not and probably will not have President Obama speak at our graduation ceremony. Then again, most universities in America will never have that honor. However, unless those arguing for that also adhere to the myth that bigger is always better, we have managed to have several notable figures visit our campus: Patch Adams, Lt. Dan Choi, and the Omani Ambassador to the United States to name but a few.

We have a Conversation on Race several times throughout the year and Global Fest every March. The CIVIC offers us Alternative Spring Breaks, Detroit Service Initiatives, and other philanthropic and charitable programs. UM-Dearborn plays host to state wide conferences, seminars for college and high school students, and events which bring to light important current issues facing our communities, country and world. We have students who present papers at Meeting of the Minds as well as regional and national professional conferences. There are internships available and field school opportunities for those that want them. All of these events and activities are brought to this campus and its student population by the student leaders and administration. Personally, I think those achievements speak more for the quality of the education and student life at UM-Dearborn than our lack of Frisbee wielding students behind the UC.

The difference between us and our larger counterparts should be self evident: they have dorms and a continuous student population on campus. There is precious little we can do to compete with that but then again, we don’t have to compete with them. Let them have their culture and tradition and be rightfully proud of what they can accomplish, but allow us our culture and traditions and allow us to be proud of what we have and continue to accomplish! When we, as students, stand out for our academic successes, community involvement, philanthropic endeavors or our abilities to make a difference to those around us, we are recognized by every level of the university and, at times, the various communities of Southeastern Michigan or any visitor to the UM-Dearborn homepage.

We don’t have to fight to be recognized by someone other than the Teacher’s Assistant. When the student organizations host events on campus, we can feel confident that the upper levels of the administration are at least aware of what we’re doing and are always willing, schedule permitting, to attend our events if invited. That’s yet another area where the support from “those in charge of the students” is far superior to many other universities.

Let us not focus only on the administration or the student leaders. They are not the only aspects of what make our campus life so enriching. You deserve credit too. Yes, you, the person reading this article. You make up part of our 9,000 or so student population here. You are similar to many other students either by religion, cultural or ethnic backgrounds, gender, sex, or any other combination of categorical differences. At the same time, you are unlike many other students for those very same reasons. This is true of almost any university…I’m aware of that…except that at our university we embrace the differences and adhere to an ideology of inclusion toward everyone.

It may seem like an overly common and widely practiced idea but I can assure you, it is not something that many other universities do well if at all. We are a mixture of all peoples who come together as one. We teach each other about what makes us unique and we come away with a far richer and a more complete view of the world around us. That is something highly positive which adds to our student and campus life that neither of the aforementioned articles even mentioned in passing.

As I said at the start of this commentary, when I came here I was the typical commuter student. I used the mindset “that nothing cool ever happens here” as a weak excuse for my unwillingness to be a part of something more rewarding than I could have imagined. Then things changed. I realized, thanks in part my anthropology professors, that I needed to have more to show for my time at UM-Dearborn than just a grade and degree. I needed to show what I was capable of doing while here. I sought out the “elusive” ‘Anthro Club’ and became a member. That was in Winter 2010.

For the last two years I have had the honor to serve on our campus as the President of the Association of Student Anthropologists. I have also been a student mentor to the Anthropology Department, a member of the Student Environmental Association, the Student Philanthropy Council, Pride, the Association for Diversity and Unity, the Organization for Interfaith Coexistence, and Amnesty International. I was the student chair for the 2012 Global Fest planning committee and a catalyst in the creation of the student branch of the International Friends program, to which I belong and have had the opportunity to meet and become friends with dozens of students from China, India, and Oman.

I have helped plan and execute countless events on and off campus, ranging from behind the scenes tours of museums, to the Hijabi Monologues, and everything in between. I present my resume not to flaunt my successes, but to emphasize my point; I am an ACTIVE student on this campus as are hundreds of other students, many of whom I know personally and who have made and continue to make differences, thank you very much Mr. Okeke. We work hard every day to make this campus one that all students can continue to be proud of and we do it with the support and encouragement of the administration. Many of the student leaders, myself included, are known on a first name basis by the Chancellor, Vice Chancellors, and the Assistants to the Vice Chancellors. I am pretty sure that the larger universities cannot say the same for their student leader/upper administrator relations.

Furthermore, a viable campus life is not something that just happens. It is something which each student must seek out and make happen for themselves and for others. To insinuate that the student leaders and the university as a whole have somehow failed student life is both insulting and factually erroneous. The only point I am willing to concede to Mr. Okeke is that the students are the people who, at the end of the day, must decide what type of campus they want to have. That is where the concession stops because the campus is already one of which to be proud. If you think there is room for improvement, then get involved and share your ideas, do not stay isolated and claim that the “answer is simple, but it’s not mine to give.” This University, our campus life and our student life are something we should all be proud of, willing to work to protect and further enrich. I know that when I walk across the stage, in our gymnasium, to receive my diploma this winter, I will do so with pride and confidence that I am leaving this campus a better place because of my involvement, and I hope that every student would be able to say the same.

To paraphrase a part of Vice Chancellor Henderson’s speech at last week’s Student Leadership Awards: “One cannot expect student life to be handed to them on a blue and maize platter. One must want it and subsequently seize it.” After all, isn’t working hard for something, be it our degree or an active and rich student life experience, that makes us the leaders and the best?

  • Uzoma Okeke

    I don’t know why people are still defending themselves against my opinion. And I don’t know how many articles are going to be posted about the same topic while ignoring the comments that have already countered the very article they plan on writing, like this one. No one said that there weren’t some memorable……nevermind. You people think what you want Think that talking about this til your face turns blue will prove anything. Think that mentioning one good event per semester means something when we have “more student orgs than Ann Arbor” (feel free to refer to my quality over quantity statement). But I’ll take actions over speeches for 1000, Alex.

    And btw, you are freaking welcome for sparking an initiative.

  • Uzoma Okeke

    And the same way you have “proof” to support your statement of saying my opinion is “factually erroneous”, is the same way I can say that I know student and faculty leaders, whose combined resume far exceed yours, that supports exactly what I have been stating from the beginning.