Kimora Porter wanted to ensure that incoming students had every opportunity to succeed.
So when Porter learned University of Michigan-Dearborn didn’t offer a major in African and African American Studies, she lobbied to change that.
Porter worked with UM-Dearborn’s Black Student Union to gather more than 400 signatures to show their support of the major. She also addressed the major with members of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters’ executive committee.
“It’s definitely too late in the game for me to change my major, but I have a child in college and if she were going here, I would like her to have access to this type of major,” said Porter, a senior studying behavioral sciences.
Her hard work paid off, as this fall, UM-Dearborn students can major in African and African American Studies.
A minor in African and African American Studies was established at UM-Dearborn in 1997, but English professor Gloria House knew her students wanted more. That’s why she wrote a proposal last year and, with an outpouring of student support, the program was approved in June.
“It was a big victory because it was a long time coming,” she said. “I know there’s a great deal of readiness for this major.”
And the numbers seem to prove it. For the past nine years, the program has held steady with enrollment around 300.
“During these years, many students have expressed their regret that they were not able to major in African and African American Studies,” House said.
Laura Howard is one of those students. Howard was scheduled to graduate last April and knew she wouldn’t be able to benefit from such a major. That, however, didn’t stop the UM-Dearborn alumna from lobbying for the major.
“While I knew I was graduating, to not participate in a movement that I believe so strongly in, that’s just not me,” Howard said. “I feel like the success of a person has a lot more to do with the legacy they leave behind.”
One of the benefits of this particular major, House said, is that it prepares students for a variety of careers, including law, social work, K-12 education and civic leadership.
House also believes the new major will benefit African American student retention at UM-Dearborn, while expanding upon the campus community’s inclusive environment. About 25 percent of UM-Dearborn’s enrollment is comprised of students of color. Combine that with the region’s diverse makeup, Martin Hershock contends, “it’s vitally important that programs like this exist.”
“Given who we are and given the realities of this region, having a program with this focus is absolutely imperative to campus,” said Hershock, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters.