Brooke Kimbrough, a 17-year-old high school senior, always dreamed of attending the University of Michigan.
But when she received her rejection letter in the mail this spring, Kimbrough took an unusual step: she held a news conference and rally at the campus to protest the decision.
“I fervently believe in black equality,” Kimbrough explained in a statement. “I believe that our public university system should provide a pathway for opportunity for underrepresented minority communities. I am appealing my application to the University of Michigan not only for myself, but for other black and minority students who deserve the equal opportunity to go to the best public university in the nation.”
Kimbrough, a senior at University Preparatory Academy in Detroit, says she's taking a stand on behalf of other minority applicants to the elite public university, located in Ann Arbor, Mich. Less than 5 percent of the student body is African-American; of the state's total population, more than 14 percent are black, according to the 2012 U.S. Census.
At the rally Tuesday, Kimbrough also promised to publicize more rejection letters from minority students until her public appeal for a spot in next fall's freshman class is granted.
"I have left the plantation to get my freedom but I am coming back for you too," she said in a video posted by Fox 2 Detroit.
Kimbrough says she carried a 3.6 GPA and scored a 23 out of 36 on the ACT standardized test. She applied through U-M's early action program and was given a deferred admission decision prior to her subsequent denial. The Michigan Daily notes that her scores are below average when compared to the university's fall 2013 class, which achieved an average GPA of a 3.85 and an average ACT score range of 29 to 33. U-M is currently ranked 28th among national universities in the U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges list.
The high school senior points to her achievements outside of the classroom: she's part of University Prep's award-winning debate team, president of the school's National Honor Society chapter, and took part in a youth leadership program at Alternatives for Girls, a Detroit nonprofit. Kimbrough is backed by the civil rights activist group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). Three other Metro Detroit students also attended the news conference and protest to share their stories.
“It frustrates me when I’m actually trying to do something, bring this over to the University and show them that, ‘Yes, you can still come from this kind of area with one parent at that home and not a lot of money coming in every year, but you can still be somebody,’” Kimbrough said, according to a Michigan Daily report.
U-M says each student application undergoes several holistic reviews, which consider many factors when determining whether a student is the right fit for the school. Although the university negotiated with black students as far back as the 1970s, saying it would work to raise its minority enrollment to 10 percent, 44 years of those promises haven't seen U-M yet hit that mark. This year, black students at U-M discussed problems with diversity on campus using the hashtag #BBUM (being black at U-M), bringing national attention to the underrepresentation of minorities. After weeks of negotiations, the school and its Black Student Union announced on Wednesday a new push to boost minority enrollment.
U-M's admissions policy has come under fire before. In 1995, Jennifer Gratz, a student at Southgate Anderson High School in Southgate, Mich. applied to U-M but was wait-listed. Gratz, who is white, argued that minority students who had achieved less academically were admitted. She took her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a landmark ruling in 2003 that banned U-M from continuing to apply its points-based affirmative action policy to undergraduate applicants. (U-M's graduate schools, however, were still allowed to consider race as a factor in the applications process).
In 2006, almost 60 percent of Michigan voters approved a ban on affirmative action in higher education and government contracting, an issue Gratz helped lead. In June, the Supreme Court is scheduled to decide whether the 2006 ban on affirmative action in public colleges and universities is constitutional.
Gratz, now the founder and CEO of the anti-affirmative-action XIV Foundation, issued her own release Thursday, challenging Kimbrough or a member of BAMN to publicly debate whether affirmative action should be used in college admissions.
“Ms. Kimbrough has publicly demanded that the university should discriminate against other applicants in order to accommodate her demand for preferential treatment based on her skin color,” Gratz said in the statement. “Her very public position contrasts with that of voters who adopted a ban on racial policies in 2006. I hope Ms. Kimbrough is willing to let Michiganders consider her position on this issue in a debate."
Kimbrough, who accepted the challenge, is a member of her high school's champion debate team. Still, some might wonder why a seasoned politician like Gratz would seek to publicly debate a high school student roughly two decades her junior. According to the Detroit News, Kimbrough’s mother and sister were similarly skeptical.
“It’s important to talk about this,” said Kimbrough, the paper reports. “This woman has challenged me, and I want to talk about it. It’s important to talk about. And I am interested in hearing what she has to say."