Come On, Mitch. You Can Do Better Than That.

Mitch Albom penned an opinion article this weekend discussing the most recent uproar from BAMN (By Any Means Necessary): a protest against the University of Michigan Admission Office for denying Brooke Kimbrough admission. Despite Kimbrough’s 3.5 GPA and score of 23 on the ACT, BAMN, an affirmative action advocacy group, claims that Kimbrough was denied admission on the grounds on race.

The intention of this blog post is not to comment on Kimbrough and BAMN’s efforts. Instead, I would like to discuss the quality of Albom’s article covering the topic. Admittedly, I haven’t read anything from Albom since senior year of high school, at which point I thought Tuesdays with Morrie was a work of art. I recall enjoying Albom’s work for his simple yet direct use of language. Reflecting back on what I read, it wasn’t incredibly thought-provoking. Perhaps this is the reason I enjoyed his work so much in high school.

Upon revisiting Albom’s work when I opened this article, the quality of the piece was disappointing. It was not well-phrased by any means, in fact I thought his argument was written quite poorly considering the journalistic nature of this piece. There were several instances throughout the article when Albom could have used stronger language and more thorough support for his argument. For example, he uses the following passage to explain his interaction with Kimbrough:

When I asked Brooke why it’s wrong for U-M to set a similar bar (she was denied admission with below the U-M averages of a 3.6 GPA and a 23 on the ACT) she said U-M needed to “represent the state. Blacks are about 14% of the population, so it should be 14% roughly.”

I pointed out that whites were 79% of Michigan’s population, but officially 57% of U-M’s, so should we adjust that up? “That’s ludicrous,” she said, claiming it should only apply to minorities. I then noted U-M was 11% Asian American, but our state was only 2%. Should we adjust down?

“I don’t understand what you’re asking,” she said.

While I appreciate Albom’s logic, this was a lazy way to explain his point of view. Instead of including research on other universities or even citing UM’s efforts to become more inclusive of minorities, Albom asked Kimbrough, 17, to answer these questions and simply inserted a few statistics which require little effort to obtain. It is important to note that Kimbrough is just 17. While one could argue that Kimbrough brought this media fire upon herself, she shouldn’t necessarily be expected to have all the answers to deeper issues of race and inclusion. Although Albom did state that he found Kimbrough, “passionate, affable, intelligent and, like many teens her age, adamant to make a point,” this passage portrayed her as careless and short-sighted. Kimbrough may have a lot to learn; however, this passage was written in poor taste.

Additionally, Albom made several unsupported statements throughout the article. For example:

And in the future, if she really wants to change things, she can create a two-parent, high-standards home for her own children, and follow an age-old pattern of each generation pushing the next to do better. More than any ethnicity argument or admissions policy, home life will determine educational success.

This passage is full of offensive assumptions. First of all, why does Kimbrough have to change this by making a better environment for her children? Did she mention she wanted children or is this an assumption based on her gender? If Kimbrough wants to change UM’s diversity policies in the future, there are numerous ways she can go about doing so besides having successful children.

What’s more, several studies have concluded that two-parent homes yield more successful students, yet Albom doesn’t mention any of them. This is a blind assertion that would easily offend anyone coming from a single-parent household. 61.7% of households with children in Detroit are single-parent households, and this article was published in the Detroit Free Press. Therefore, Albom alienated a large portion of his audience. Furthermore, the phrase “age-old pattern of each generation pushing the next to do better,” sounds condescending towards Kimbrough’s family and families of other students who were denied acceptance to their universities of choice. This wording makes it sound as though the parents of those students did not create a “high-standards home” or push their children to do well, which is likely not the case in many instances.

More importantly, the last sentence ignores major sociological factors that determine academic success. Home life is critical to success for students, but so are the school environments that students have access to. Inner-city schools more often than not have high drop-out rates and rarely send students to post-secondary institutions of UM’s caliber. If Albom wished to be more convincing, he should have acknowledged this fact and then cited studies about home life and its effects on educational success.

The final key issue with Albom’s article, which I alluded to earlier, is that Albom took advantage of a 17-year-old to make his point. Kimbrough was an easy target and Albom certainly leveraged this fact to write an easy argument. Albom discusses Kimbrough’s future success in his conclusion:

And with that, Brooke Kimbrough wasn’t white or black: She was one of countless kids today who feel that without their first college choice, their future is doomed. I told her it’s not. She can do great things attending Michigan State, Iowa, Western Michigan or Howard — all fine universities that accepted her.

I think Brooke Kimbrough has a bright future. She was tossed into a fight that she doesn’t want to become personal. That’s good. Because this decision wasn’t personal. It wasn’t a “noose.” What she experienced was disappointment, not racism. And when she said, “I don’t have all the answers,” that, Brooke, is the start of wisdom.

After Albom condescendingly dismantled Kimbrough’s arguments earlier on, the conclusion seems like a half attempt to make himself seem level-headed and kind. To me, the conclusion comes off as incredibly patronizing.

Though I agree with Albom’s logic in this piece with regard to the actual issue, I believe this article could have been revised to make a stronger argument and do more service to Kimbrough. In addition to isolating a large audience, Albom ignored several critical components to educational success. This dampens his credibility as a journalist. Hopefully Albom isn’t planning on writing any novels about diversity and education any time soon.

Sorry, Mitch. Might be time for a J-school refresher course.
Sorry, Mitch. Might be time for a J-school refresher course.

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