91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Sound and fury over Detroit teen's U of M rejection misses the real point

Jack Lessenberry

Brooke Kimbrough is easy to pick on – and a lot of the establishment, including the media, is happily doing so. Brooke is a frustrated high school senior who didn’t get accepted into the school of her choice – the University of Michigan. She apparently always took it for granted that she would get in.

The fact that she didn’t actually means she is in the majority. Two-thirds of high school seniors applying to U of M are rejected.

Kimbrough, who goes to one of the best charter schools in Detroit, is an impressive student. She’s a member of the debate team, and a youth leadership program.

Her grade point average is a respectable 3.5. But these days the average Michigan freshman’s average is 3.8. Brooke’s ACT scores are even further behind most successful applicants. So she was, sadly, rejected – though the university encouraged her to do well elsewhere and apply for admittance as a sophomore.

But Brooke isn’t willing to take no for an answer – and has decided to make this all about race. Seventeen-year-olds are often all about exaggerated rhetoric, and she is a prize-winning debater.

For the last few days she’s been much in the news, appearing at rallies and comparing herself to the civil rights martyrs. The teenager talks about “leaving the plantation” and compares this to a lynching, saying she will “document every noose of a rejection letter that the university produces to our black, brown and red bodies.”

Naturally, that has stirred up a lot of people.

Many whites loathe the idea of special treatment for minorities. They helped outlaw affirmative action in college admissions in this state eight years ago, and they are having a field day with Brooke.

Kimbrough was challenged to a debate by Jennifer Gratz, a white woman who has made a career of fighting racial preferences since she failed to get into U of M 19 years ago.

The teenager was taken on this weekend by a 50-something sports columnist for the Detroit Free Press, who caught her in a few contradictions and advised her to worry about creating “a two-parent high-standards home for her own children.”

Frankly, some of what Kimbrough says is absurd. I am very happy nobody paid much attention to me when I was 17.

Still, all this sound and fury is missing the real point. The fact is that black enrollment has been steeply declining at the U of M.

In February, before anyone had heard of Brooke, outgoing President Mary Sue Coleman said she was deeply troubled by this.

She added “we hear loud and clear that students of color feel isolated and marginalized.” Concerns like those being raised by this one teenager are “real and painful,” she said.

If minorities don’t have a reasonable shot at our state’s best university, we’re in trouble. There’s another dimension too. According to the university itself, the cost of a four-year degree is now well over $100,000. I don’t know how Brooke Kimbrough, or most people of any color, can possibly afford that.

And if you aren’t worried about that, I’m also worried about you.