In Ann Arbor, there is a copper “block M” from the class of 1953, located at the center of the Diag — the heart of main campus. It is tradition that no one steps on the Block M, and those who do will suffer the worst bad luck imaginable. Avoiding the block M is a staple of the Ann Arbor campus, and those who aren’t aware of the custom are either not members of the community or don’t pay much attention at all.
As part of the celebrations for the Inauguration of our new Chancellor, Dr. Domenico Grasso (Congratulations, sir!) unveiled a block M placed just outside the University Center that is very similar to the one at the Ann Arbor Diag. He also encouraged the students, staff and faculty in attendance to consider what the new tradition should be with the block m. The clear and obvious tradition attached to this new block M would clearly be to simply follow the Ann Arbor campus “avoid-for-good-luck” model, and I will not contest that such a method works for them. But as a true University of Michigan fan and UM-Dearborn fanatic, I see it as absolutely necessary that we make it custom to step on that darn block M.
In my three years at this University, I have been fortunate enough to meet students, faculty and staff that have been vitally crucial to my development as a Michigan Man. But I won’t lie: because of my life-long admiration of the Ann Arbor campus, I was certainly hesitant as an incoming student and then freshman to accept this University.
As some or many of you do, I originally saw the word “Dearborn” below the block M as an asterisk: I figure that yes, we are technically the University of Michigan, but are we really? That perspective was a challenge for me at the beginning of my experience. I would go to Ann Arbor for football games, and I would react in complete terror whenever anyone asked me which dorm I lived in; I would often lie just to avoid the explanation. I wanted to embrace the fact that I was finally a Michigan student, but I couldn’t help but think of how different and seemingly worse the Dearborn campus is from Ann Arbor.
Fast forward to the end of my time as an Orientation Leader during my sophomore year. As an OL, I learned so much about this beautiful campus and I finally began to allow myself to accept my status as a Michigan student. Later in that fall, I began to gladly tell people I’m a Dearborn student; I even met Michigan basketball player Jordan Poole, and told him I go to Dearborn when he asked which dorm I stayed at!
What changed my perception was this: we are not the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. We don’t take classes there, we don’t join their student organizations, we don’t pay their astronomical tuition bills. But, we are the University of Michigan. We proudly wear our maize and blue, sing “Hail to the Victors!”, and graduate with a Michigan degree. And on top of that, we are University of Michigan-DEARBORN students: we organize cardboard boat races on the pond in the fall, spend late nights at Leo’s Coney Island, and struggle with parking. Why not embrace the fact that we are different? And it is not accepting that Ann Arbor students are superior or acknowledging that we are some ugly younger sibling, it is accepting the fact that we are related but independent- similar yet unique.
As a campus celebrating its 60th anniversary, we must embrace the challenges that come with being different. And one of those challenges is starting our own traditions as Dearborn students and passing them onto the next generation. And what could be a more perfect opportunity than
this? A question of how to handle our treatment of an Ann Arbor tradition: do we try to emulate others by avoiding our block M, or do we take on the unknown and step on ours? The clear and obvious choice is to tackle the unknown. After all, would we really be Michigan students if we did not push ourselves in uncomfortable situations in order to be the leaders and best?
When you see the block M located between the rock and the University Center, acknowledge its presence respectfully by giving it some love: pat it with your hand, hop onto it, even kiss it if you feel so inclined. Our little block M — with our little asterisk below it — is ours, and this piece of cement and our campus deserve to be treated as the unique and special thing it is.