Just beyond a gleaming lobby that features a rotating gallery of local art, U-M’s Detroit Center has three large meeting rooms, named Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn, in honor of each University campus. The rooms are available to members of the U-M community, as well as local nonprofits and organizations. On any given day, they might contain an arts workshop for former prisoners, a writing course for both Michigan and Detroit Public School students, or a class that teaches community members how to rehabilitate homes.

"There are really outstanding collaborative efforts happening in Detroit,” says Mike Morland, the center’s communications director. “With the center serving as an active partner between the University and community, it's both exciting and motivating to see the impact of these collaborations.”

The U-M Detroit Center facilitates learning and engagement with the city, both inside its classrooms and throughout the community. Left to right: Courtesy of Prison Creative Arts Project; Courtesy of Mike Morland/University of Michigan Detroit Center; Courtesy of Semester in Detroit.

U-M has maintained a connection to Detroit since it was founded there in 1817, but the Detroit Center has quickly become the heart of the University's activities in Motown. After opening its doors on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard in 2005, it has grown to accommodate more than 17 academic units from across the University, playing host to 20,000 visitors each year.

Many U-M schools host their own programs at the Detroit Center, and LSA's connections to the center run particularly deep. The Residential College's Semester in Detroit (SID), which facilitates a living, learning, and working experience for College students in the city, claims the center as its home base. During their time with SID, students partner with local nonprofit organizations to serve as interns while taking classes and engaging in the community. Since they also live in the city during their Semester in Detroit experience, students have access to the city's cultural amenities, many of which are right outside the Detroit Center’s doors.

“Semester in Detroit wouldn't be possible without the physical space and partnership with the U-M Detroit Center,” says SID associate director and Residential College lecturer Craig Regester (A.B. ’93).  “Since [the program] began in 2009, the Detroit Center has been our 'home away from home' for our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners.  They are an essential component in the growth and success of Semester in Detroit.”

U-M was originally called “the Catholepistemiad, or University, of Michigania,” and was organized into thirteen different professorships. It was located where Bates and Congress streets meet today. Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Another LSA-affiliated program, the Atonement Project, is part of the Prison Creative Arts Project and holds regular arts workshops at the Detroit Center. The project is aimed at giving those whose lives have been affected by crime or incarceration an opportunity for creative release, and a chance at forgiveness, apology, or acknowledgement. It seeks to use art as a form of therapy, looking to prevent further harm to families and communities.

LSA and the Residential College also hold a number of academic courses at the center, many of which are Detroit-centric. Class topics range from filming Detroit to environmental organizing in the city to a class called "Detroiters Speak," which features a weekly guest lecturing on the city's history and culture. Additionally, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program hosts the Detroit Community Based Research Program, pairing each student researcher with an area nonprofit to contribute 350 hours of work by the end of their summer.

As the city continues to grow and change, the Detroit Center plans to be there, supporting those already working in the community while facilitating meaningful interactions with the University, its students, and the city.

“By continuing to cultivate this relationship, the opportunity to have a mutually profound impact is strengthened,” says Morland. “Looking beyond the nearly 200-year relationship—there's a natural connection between the University and Detroit. They're both innovators and revolutionaries.”


Read more about the impact of LSA students, faculty, and alumni in Detroit: