It should be obvious, but just in case: This is not an official U of M site. The essay-within-an-essay that follows is indeed what I would like to submit were I applying for admission, but I am not applying, so it is essentially a political and personal statement, which is why it is here on my web site.
All undergraduate applicants to the University of Michigan must write an essay not exceeding 250 words on one of these topics:
- At the University of Michigan, we are committed to building an academically superb and widely diverse educational community. What would you as an individual bring to our campus community?
- Describe an experience you've had where cultural diversity--or a lack thereof--has made a difference to you.
(from "University of Michigan--Application for Undergraduate Admissions, 2003-2004")
They do indeed plan to cook up a fine community! By applying for admission, you declare your wish to be an ingredient. If you want to convince the chefs that you are part of their recipe, you have all the hints you need.
I recommend that you commit a revolutionary act by being completely honest. If what you would "bring to . . . [their] campus community" is simply a kinda smart kid with SATS > 1400 and HS GPA ~= 3.8, then say so. Where else are you supposed to go? Don't cater to the University's institutional xenophilia. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being popular, well-adjusted, intelligent, ordinary and White. You prolly won't get admitted this way, but your act of revolutionary honesty will be the beginning of a profound political education, which is why I recommend it.
On the other hand, you might believe that you have some spark of genius. You might be an idiot in many ways and still have a special, rare spark. Think about it. What is it? Do you even know? If you do, then there's your essay topic. If not, you might consider writing an "anti-admissions essay": "I don't know what I would bring to the University. That's not why I am applying. I'm applying because I think I have some kind of rare spark of genius, and I hope the pursuit of a degree at the University of Michigan would help me develop that spark. Isn't that what you're there for? Don't you really exist for me? Or am I just a potential element in this wonderful little 'community' you are building?" Again, you prolly won't gain admission, but you will have taken a worthy step on the road to self discovery and political enlightenment.
Here is the admission essay I would submit:
In the Fall of 1966 I brought to the University of Michigan a mathematically talented, slightly whacked, seriously clueless young man infatuated with various popular critiques of normality but who had poor social skills and nothing in the way of wisdom. It was a difficult year for me. I felt as out of place at the University as I did in the small town high school I came from.
My personal failings led to academic failings which led to a period of military service. While still in the Army I joined a religious cult.
Participation in the cult made me aware of potentials of mind I otherwise never would have known about. I learned how to focus my attention and how to study effectively for hour after hour. Sometimes I could dissipate emotional knots I'd gotten into. There was enough magic to keep me involved, in spite of the many difficulties I had with cultic doctrines and staff. Unfortunately, I still could not see the depths of my emotional and social ignorance. The outfit I had joined in order to find a way into the world of ordinary human satisfactions had pumped my head full of bloodless, abstract, life destroying ideas. And I thought I was enlightened!
I left the cult after 17 years. Thus, I would bring to the University of Michigan a person who knows that being thrilled and captivated by ideas is not the same as having found the truth. I would bring a person who has developed diverse opinions from his quirky perspectives and who believes he has learned a few points worth knowing during his long and still incomplete adjustment process. I've dealt with paranoia. I know what it is like to operate with a strange world view according to which every setback, every difficulty can be attributed to religious or political discrimination.
I believe there are parallels between that way of thinking that I've abandoned and the tendency of some people of color to interpret every quirk or mannerism of a White person as a sign of deep racism that calls for a massive institutional program of wide scale thought reform.
"No," I'd like to say to the young Black man in the group conflict class, "a White person who changes his pace when sharing a sparsly trafficked area late at night in order to gain distance from you isn't necessarily reacting to your race. It is rude to converge on a lone individual in such a situation; perhaps the pace-changer is simply engaging in a bit of body language: 'No, I'm not trying to get close to you, I do not wish to threaten you.' The gesture is possibly no more 'racist' than tapping on one's brake pedel when another driver tries to pass, as if to say, 'No, I'm not one of those idiots who speeds up while being passed.'"
Thus, I would bring to the University a White person who is willing to share his opinions, whatever they might be, with Black people just as he would with fellow White people in the course of serious conversations. Affectations of racial righteousness may help the exceptionally ambitious climb up the Academic Success Ladder, but I fail to see how they address the serious difficulties of what is sometimes called the urban underclass. I am not ashamed to say that.
The University of Michigan has become corrupt. I've studied some of the "research" submitted by the University to the courts in connection with the admissions lawsuits. It was merely political opinion disguised as research. I've written a detailed essay backing up that point and I've made serious efforts to publicize my findings. Thus, I would bring to the University a person willing to discuss and expose the corruption that exists at its highest levels.
The University of Michigan needs me much more than I need it.
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