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Michigan Access Program: Revamped and Revived

By Katie Vloet

Christine Gregory, '96, knows how important the Michigan Access Program (MAP) can be for students, because when she was a student, the program was a fundamental part of her success at Michigan Law.

"I really needed MAP as a student. It's how I got support, it's how I interacted with the Law School," says Gregory, now assistant dean for student affairs.

The program had begun in the 1960s, founded by the Black Law Students Alliance (BLSA). Later, it developed into the Law School's primary diversity program; when Gregory was a student, MAP included a weeklong pre-orientation program for students of color. During that week, the program focused on demystifying the law school experience, connecting with fellow minority students, and generally learning about diversity at Michigan Law.

Following the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Law School made some changes to MAP, even though the decision upheld the Law School's use of affirmative action, Gregory says. MAP was opened to all students beginning in 2004. When Proposal 2 became law in Michigan in 2006—banning all preferential programs based on race, nationality, or gender—"what we had done voluntarily now was required by law," Gregory says.

MAP continued under the new setup for several years, with all students invited to participate. Through the course of the changes to the program, though, it "lost its purpose and its mission," Gregory says. "I really tried to figure out how to reclaim that mission, to be more about social justice and leadership and not just about having an extra week to meet people at the start of law school."

She began working with the Program on Intergroup Relations, a social justice education program at the University. The new MAP, which began in the 2010–11 year, was a massive overhaul. The program required applications, on which incoming students had to show that they were committed to social justice.

"I wanted to think about the program in a way that was compliant with Prop. 2, but also more useful to students," Gregory says. "It was important to me that MAP help students raise issues of race and identity in the classroom, which can be a very intimidating space." MAP continues to have a mix of students—and could be a model for other universities that need to change or eliminate race-based programs, but want to offer students an inclusive classroom experience, Gregory says.

One of the exercises is a mock criminal law class in which Mark West, Nippon Life Professor of Law and associate dean for academic affairs, teaches People v. Goetz: a case in which race was likely a factor but was never mentioned in the opinion. Students discuss the case, then engage in a critique with faculty. This, plus a conflict-resolution exercise, an arbitration simulation, and more, are designed for students to develop cultural competency skills and be empowered to raise issues of race and identity in class discussions. It works, say the participants.

"The program was useful in thinking about how issues of social justice often need to be forced to the front of conversations and how to look at cases and issues from multiple perspectives," says 2L Perry Teicher. "Coming from different years, different backgrounds, and different experiences made the program and the friendships strong—we learned how to think about issues from each other's perspectives and found a sense of empathy, wanting to understand where each other were coming from, learning, and growing from that."

Adds 2L Betsy Fisher: "The biggest contribution that MAP made to me was to build a sense of community among the social justice–minded students, who without such an opportunity can be hard to find. After a week of intense and honest discussions about identity and the law school atmosphere, the 25 of us were fast friends, and we continued those friendships throughout the school year."

Andrew Dalack, a 2L, found that his MAP training affected him throughout the school year. "Although I would have been willing to raise issues of race or identity during classroom discussions had I not participated in MAP, knowing that there were other MAP students in my section made me more comfortable to initiate these potentially divisive, yet important, conversations."

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