Letters to Alumni

Statement on the U.S. Supreme Court Rulings Regarding College Admissions

June 29, 2023

Diversity enriches our community and our campus. In a world that often feels divided, sustaining diverse campuses where we share our unique experiences and perspectives strengthens empathy, learning, and problem solving.  

I am deeply disheartened by the Supreme Court’s rulings in these cases. Undoubtedly, this decision will reduce diversity on college campuses across the country. 

I know this is true because it happened right here at the University of Michigan. Following the passage of Proposition 2 in 2006, which outlawed the consideration of race as one factor among many in college admissions in the state of Michigan, U-M experienced one of its least diverse freshman classes and student diversity at the University has not recovered. In its amicus brief supporting Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, U-M said that since the adoption of Proposition 2, enrollment of Black students is down 44 percent. For Native American students, it’s down 90 percent. 

Fostering a diverse educational environment is consistent with the University’s core mission of academic excellence, and as such, U-M has worked incredibly hard to cultivate and support a diverse student body. However, as President Santa Ono and Provost Laurie McCauley note, it is much more difficult to achieve racial diversity in the student body using only race-neutral methods. 

But the University continues to persist, with an institution-wide effort to increase diversity through its diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan, DEI 1.0, and its next step, DEI 2.0. 

We support these efforts because they are part of our core mission as well.

In 2008, as a separate and autonomous nonprofit organization, the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan launched the LEAD Scholars program. LEAD is a merit-based scholarship for Black, Latino, and Native American students who are already admitted to the University. Along with financial support, LEAD Scholars join an inclusive community and access career exploration, alum and peer mentoring, leadership, community service, and social opportunities. Since the program’s inception, 680 U-M students have engaged in the LEAD Scholar community.

The Alumni Association strongly believes that diversity on campus benefits every member of the University community and beyond. We remain deeply committed to growing LEAD and highlighting the myriad ways alumni can support inclusion and diversity at the University of Michigan. This fall we will welcome the largest LEAD first-year cohort in the program’s 15-year history. These 80+ students will join the U-M community, representing a wide range of academic interests, professional goals, and regions from across the U.S. Programs like LEAD reduce financial and social barriers and support access to a world-class education at U-M.

In partnership with alumni and donors, we are committed to supporting the University by leveraging our staff and volunteer resources to recruit and retain a fully diverse student population on all three U-M campuses.

Ayanna McConnell
Acting President and CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

For media inquiries about the University of Michigan’s statement on affirmative action, please email [email protected].

For media inquiries regarding the Alumni Association’s LEAD Scholars program, please contact Jessica Yurasek at [email protected].

Statement From the Alumni Association Board of Directors

As a separate entity from the University of Michigan, the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan remains dedicated to supporting the University’s commitment to diversity. The Alumni Association will continue to work with donors, volunteers, and the alumni base to help foster a diverse student population at all three U-M campuses.

As such, we will also continue to embrace all dimensions of diversity in the interest of creating an enriched and enlightened higher education experience for our students.

Kathleen Wilson Thompson, ’79
Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

Previous Letters to Alumni

To our community of dedicated alums,

Over the past six to seven years, we have successfully completed some of the most challenging, and rewarding, work that any organization could undertake. With great leadership from our Board of Directors and the “all in” commitment from our staff, we have transformed into an organization that is poised to be relevant to the University of Michigan and you, our alumni, for decades to come.

Of course, important work like this is never finished, but now is a time when we can all consider what we have accomplished and take great pride in the fact that we’ve done all that is humanly possible to be our best. I am very proud of who we have become.

None of this work would have been possible without our Boards of Directors, on whom we depended to keep us on the right track. Their remarkable commitment and deep involvement made this transformation possible. The Alumni Association’s transformation started during the January 2015 board meeting in Los Angeles. Over the last six years, the top objective for the Alumni Association has been to evolve into an organization that proactively supports an inclusive community of alumni of all identities, and that is positioned to serve the changing needs of our alumni for the next 50 years. At the core of the transformation were three interconnected priorities: Success, Connections, and University Support; we later added a recommitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice (DEIJ).

Similarly, we have built an incredibly capable staff team, from the people who answer the calls of alumni to the executive team with whom I spend so much time shaping the organization. We’ve created a new culture at the Alumni Association based on our core values: All In, Serving Heart, and Solution Seeker. At the top leadership level, our Executive Team is committed to the same goals and each of them brings unique skills and perspectives that ensure our work produces the right results.

With their leadership and staff creativity and hard work, we have created absolute clarity in who we are as an organization and what we are attempting to achieve.

The Association is now clearly focused on the four pillars of our work—Alumni Connections, Alumni Success, Support for the University, and a commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice.

Through our Transformation work, we opened many new doors for alumni to find meaningful connections with each other and the University. The value of these connections is evident in the significant growth of engagement for thousands of alumni who were never engaged before.

Although our alumni are already successful in their personal and professional lives, the new opportunities we have created and plan to create have given them access to many more resources to become even more successful. And as with connections, the potential for growing these opportunities is practically limitless.

The Alumni Association was started 177 years ago by the first graduating class, who wanted to give back to the University. Through the work of the Transformation, and especially including programs like LEAD, we’ve reestablished our commitment, and the relationships across campus are stronger than ever, though this work will never end.

The pillar we added last is something we’ve always believed in, but like many other organizations, we were not always fully committed to acting on. I don’t think there is any part of our work of which I am prouder than our commitment to doing the difficult work to create an inclusive organization in which everyone, regardless of their identity, background, experience, or perspective feels like they belong.

These four pillars—Alumni Connections, Alumni Success, Support for the University, and a commitment to absolute Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—will always remain core to who we are as an organization and the work that we do. It’s who we are.

On a personal level, I am humbled to have been afforded the opportunity to play the role I’ve had at Michigan for the past three decades and especially during this transformation. In college when I was president of the student body and then during my 20s when I worked on Capitol Hill, I saw my life trajectory as perhaps one day leading to my being involved in politics, even president of the United States. (I’m so glad that didn’t happen!) I was driven by a passion to give all I could to enhance the lives of others.

When I returned to my alma mater, Mississippi State University, to lead the alumni association there, I began to see that this is a work that best allows me to pursue this passion in a very meaningful way. To quote former president John F. Kennedy, I’ve always believed that education is the “tide that raises all the boats in the harbor.” And where better to make a meaningful difference for future generations than at the University of Michigan, with this set of alumni leaders and a powerful staff that are now my family.

What we have accomplished with the Transformation is already reaping immeasurable results in our efforts to engage and serve alumni and in our support for our beloved University. And the future is even brighter. There are many who might say that our work is done. But you know me, so it won’t surprise you that my focus has now shifted to “what’s next?”

Some of the answers will be in continuing the work that was started through the Transformation. But we all know that things change, our alumni change, the needs of the University change. So, we’ll have to remain open to new realities, new possibilities, and new approaches that we’ve not yet considered. And we will do it because we have built an organization that is perfectly positioned to succeed no matter what it takes.

Let me emphasize this point. We have built an organization that is not dependent on any particular structure or programs or key staff to keep moving forward. A dynamic Alumni Association that is necessary for the future is today a reality at Michigan.

It is this positioning of our Association that makes me believe there is not a more perfect time than right now for me to step aside and welcome a new president who will lead the Association forward.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. The truth is, I thought this should have happened a couple of years ago, but it just didn’t feel right while we were finishing the transformation and dealing with a pandemic and heightened social justice issues.

But now the time is right. I’m ready and the Association is ready, and I am officially announcing that I will be retiring and stepping down as President of the Alumni Association as soon as a new President is selected.

I am grateful to the University of Michigan, the Alumni Association, and our alumni community, for allowing me to pursue my passion for the past 28 years. It has been a wonderful journey for me.

Our Board of Directors has already started the process of working with a search firm to find my replacement. We will continue to share updates and make the alumni community aware once a new President has been selected.

Thank you for your support, passion, and commitment to our organization and the University of Michigan. It has been an honor to serve you.

Thank you, and forever, Go Blue!

Steve Grafton
President and CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

To our alumni,

This past weekend, the Board of Regents announced that they have ended Mark Schlissel’s term as University of Michigan president, and that former president Mary Sue Coleman has agreed to return and provide interim leadership while the Board identifies the next leader for the university.

Like others, we at the Alumni Association are shocked and greatly disappointed by news that a university investigation shows Schlissel had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. Given the serious nature of these findings, the Board of Regents took appropriate action to hold even our highest-level leaders accountable for the agreed-upon values of our university in order to maintain a safe environment for all.

New and unexpected information such as this, as well as abrupt change in leadership, can create stress and uncertainty about future direction. However, having worked closely with President Coleman during her 12 years as our president, I am certain that we are in good hands and that we will be able to move forward in a positive way from this setback.

Following this news, there are undoubtedly many questions, and we are here to support our alumni community by providing answers as quickly as they are known. All currently available information can be found on U-M’s Key Issues page. We will share additional updates as we get them.

As we all try to collectively process this disappointment, we are also listening, reflecting, and renewing our commitment to address systemic challenges within our community. We recognize the effort that’s needed to build trust and to create an environment where our entire community feels safe. We are committed to working closely with President Coleman, campus leadership, our Alumni Association board, and alumni volunteers across the globe in this endeavor.

We thank you for your continued commitment to our beloved university.


Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

To the University Community:

On Saturday, I accepted the U-M Board of Regents’ request to serve as interim until they appoint a new president. While deeply saddened by the circumstances of the invitation, I accepted the interim appointment because of my love and respect for this institution. I welcome the opportunity to work with you once again in moving forward with the critical agenda of the University of Michigan.

I want to express my deep appreciation to all of you during a difficult time for U-M. I know some will feel a sense of loss. What we can do now is to renew our commitment to the university’s mission as a collectivity.

I have spent my entire academic career at or advancing public research institutions and their teaching function. My deep and profound belief in the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of this institution’s three campuses gives me great confidence that we will come together during this period to advance the values and the excellence that define the University of Michigan.


Mary Sue Coleman
President, University of Michigan

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in deeply personal ways. Throughout the last year, the United States, and many other parts of our world, have been devastated by the community spread of the coronavirus. We’re now seeing alarming spread levels in India and we wish to express our profound empathy toward people of the Indian diaspora, which includes 6,000 Michigan alumni, 1,000 current students, and several faculty and staff members.

The severe rise in cases has put an intense strain on the Indian health system. In this moment of despair, our alumni and the larger U-M community are coming together to support Indian families who are fighting this battle. In his April 27 message, U-M President Mark Schlissel shared some ways in which the University, our alumni, staff, and faculty are gearing up to help. I am highlighting some of these for all of you to consider.

In partnership with the University and our Alumni Association leaders in India, we’re in constant communication to learn how to best provide support. Many U-M alumni are at the forefront of providing necessary resources and support during this crisis. The University is making counseling and stress consultation services available to all Indian students, staff, and faculty — many of whom have members of their immediate family battling this crisis.

In addition, we’re encouraging all of our alumni to pledge support to the relief efforts by giving to the American India Foundation’s COVID Response Fund. You may add “University of Michigan” in the comment box to ensure that your gift is recognized as part of the U-M community.

If there is a silver lining during the pandemic, it is in the stories of courage, collaboration, and kindness that we are hearing about, especially with so many of our alumni seeking solutions on the ground and finding unique ways to help.

Although it may seem insurmountable right now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Our futures will not be determined by this crisis, but by our resilience to rise up in spite of it. We send our Indian alumni and their families strength, support, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

As the world dares to hope that the nightmare of COVID-19 could soon end, some of our fellow Americans continue to experience the insidious racism that has followed in the wake of the pandemic.

Members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community have been convenient scapegoats for those looking to vent their anger and frustration. Most recently, an elderly Thai American in San Francisco died from injuries he suffered when he was pushed to the ground. Others have been the victims of unprovoked attacks, from assault to robbery.

While the acts of physical violence are chilling, other types of abuse occur all too often, from racial slurs to verbal harassment to civil rights violations.

According to the national coalition Stop AAPI Hate, which has documented anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, more than 2,800 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate occurred between March 19 and Dec. 31, 2020.

Among the dangerous words are those from some of our nation’s own leaders, who have referred to COVID-19 by terms such as the “Chinese virus.” Terms such as these perpetuate the stereotypes that have encouraged the hatred and crimes the community is currently experiencing.

We applaud other leaders, such as President Biden, who recently signed a memorandum condemning racism and recognizing the contributions the AAPI community has made during the pandemic. He notes that an “estimated 2 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have served on the front lines of this crisis as healthcare providers, as first responders, and in other essential roles.”

As part of its ongoing dedication to issues of social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion, the Alumni Association states its complete support of the Asian American and Pacific Islander members of our Michigan family. In fact, we should all stand up and speak out for members of this important community. When you encounter instances of racism, take the opportunity to correct misperceptions. Report a hate crime when you see it. Look inward at your own unconscious biases. Or take action by learning more. One place to start is the AAPI Task Force on U-M’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion website.

Remember that we are all in this together.

Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “that all persons held as slaves are, and henceforward shall be free.” However, it would take almost two and a half years for the Civil War to end and word to spread throughout the South. June 19, 1865, is recognized as the day when the last former slaves in Galveston, Texas, were notified of their freedom. On this date two years later, the first emancipation celebration was held in Austin, Texas. In the 1890s, this annual celebration came to be known as Juneteenth.

In recent decades, the celebration of Juneteenth to mark this monumental development in our nation’s history has grown in significance. However, there may not be a more relevant time for all of us to pause and reflect on its meaning than today, June 19, 2020.

While slavery ended in the 1860s, the oppression of Black Americans did not. We’ve made progress in the century and a half since then, but our nation’s policies, practices, and systems, and our own individual ways of thinking, still support a system that is neither equitable nor just. Unfortunately, it took the public murder of George Floyd to shed enough light to perhaps create real change — change that will only occur if we all commit to it.

Typically, on an occasion like MLK Day or Juneteenth, we would encourage our staff and alumni to take time for self-reflection or to participate actively. As we’re coming to learn, it is important that organizations’ leaders do more than simply “encourage” their staff to engage in active learning. If we are serious about making substantial progress toward societal change, then we must hold ourselves and our teams accountable for active engagement in this change. Accordingly, we expect that every member of our team will engage in some activity today — such as learning, self-reflection, or social activism.

We can’t presume to tell you what you should believe, but we can (and do) presume to tell you that our organizational culture and beliefs require the highest level of commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. To make progress, and ultimately to achieve success, each member of our team must demonstrate that commitment on a regular basis. It is not enough to “encourage.” It is also not enough to carve out only a couple of days a year to focus on these values. We must live and breathe them each and every day.

So, within your reflection today, we’d like you to think about how you can advance these values on an ongoing basis. Actively celebrate Juneteenth by taking time today and/or this weekend to pause and reflect on what “freedom for all” really means, and what our Constitution should mean when it says, “all men [and women] are created equal.”

Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

Jerry Sigler, ’83
Senior Vice President & COO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

To our alumni,

“Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” – Augustine of Hippo

We are at a very dark time in our history as a nation. Centuries of discrimination and unequal justice have been exposed by a global pandemic that has disproportionately affected the black community. In the past few months, we have seen various instances of systemic racism against members of that community, such as Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and Christian Cooper in New York City and countless others named or unnamed before them.

And then the ugliest of truths looked us square in the face with the unconscionable killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. It is the responsibility of all of us — but especially those of us who are in a position of privilege and are not the subject of oppression — to address this disease. If we don’t speak up and act now, when will we?

What many Americans cannot fully understand is the deep, devastating pain it adds to the pain black Americans already experience. Robert M. Sellers, the University’s chief diversity officer, wrote powerfully about this — we strongly recommend you read it. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” has never rung more true for the black community. This article expresses the burden many of them carry.

Of course, it is not only black Americans who experience injustice and discrimination. We could also be talking about Native Americans, Latinos, women, members of the LGBTQ community — the list goes on. But right now, the personal devastation is much more intense for black Americans. So, we want to speak directly to those members of our community and say:

For the murder of George Floyd and the fact that his life did not matter enough, we are sorry.

For the ugly reality that, for too many Americans, black lives do not matter enough, we are sorry.

For generations of our ancestors who were part of creating and sustaining systems and norms of injustice, we are sorry.

And, even though your lives matter greatly to us and we abhor injustice and racism, for our own passivity in allowing them to continue or not working harder to eliminate them, we are truly sorry.

We also know that sorry is not enough. We are at an edge, and it is our collective responsibility to unequivocally push toward a more inclusive world and actively strive to be anti-racist. We encourage you to read a message that President Mark Schlissel recently sent about the tragedy and U-M’s commitment to fighting injustice.

Your Alumni Association is reinforcing its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We renew our commitment to our LEAD scholars — many of whom have already been exposed to the socioeconomic injustices of being black in this country. We commit to supporting alumni clubs and affinity groups focused on these important issues. We’re prioritizing our push for increased participation of diverse alumni in all our programming efforts. We stay firm in our resolve to be diverse as an organization and welcome various points of view.

We’re sharing resources for learning and understanding and encourage everyone to have conversations with friends, colleagues, and members of the community. We also encourage everyone to sit in silence when necessary. Above all, we commit to showing up and voicing our opinions against racism, discrimination, and any sort of hatred or bias.

Our source of hope and encouragement is hearing the resilience in the voices of students, co-workers, our alumni community, and friends. Thank you for checking on each other, for sharing your anger and concern. We hope everyone will strive to listen, to understand, and to truly care for each other as the equals we are.

“There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” – James Baldwin

We are better together.

Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

Bob Stefanski, MSE’86, JD’89
Board Chair, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the University of Michigan community, unfortunately, has not been spared. We at the Alumni Association are taking proactive steps to ensure that we help “flatten the curve” of infection growth.

While many of us are at very low risk for serious health consequences from the virus, we are all potential carriers and, therefore, play important roles in how quickly it spreads. A steep spike in cases will threaten the viability of our health care system and endanger the health and lives of people we know.

Therefore, we have decided that members of our staff will work remotely, rather than in our current shared office workspace. This temporary arrangement will begin on Monday, March 16, and likely continue for about 30 days. The exact end date will depend on the future direction of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Alumni Association and our alumni clubs are expected to cancel or postpone any events or upcoming gatherings. Additionally, the Michigan Alumni Travel program is working on a daily basis to accommodate the needs of our travelers. And we are monitoring the situation closely for Camp Michigania summer programming. You can continue to find the latest status of all our programs and events below and on our social media channels.

Despite the precautions we are taking, we will continue to be responsive to your needs as U-M alumni and Association members and to work hard on your behalf. So please continue to phone and email us as you normally would.

If you want more information about the outbreak and its impact on the University, please refer to U-M’s announcements website. The Alumni Association’s Education Gateway will continue to feature all the important findings from the University and Michigan Medicine to keep the community informed.

As always, we appreciate the support that our proud alumni provide the University. And we hope that you fare well during this very challenging time.


Steve Grafton
President & CEO, Alumni Association of the University of Michigan

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