Institute for the Study of Children, Families, and Communities
203 Boone Hall
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Ethan Lowenstein, Director
The primary goal of the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS) is to develop a vibrant coalition of schools and community groups that focuses on developing students as citizen-stewards who understand and actively promote healthy ecological and social systems affecting the Great Lakes basin, the southeastern Michigan region, and specific communities. The coalition provides sustained professional development for teachers, assists with stewardship projects, and facilitates school-community collaborations.
Southeast Michigan has almost five million people and faces serious ecological, economic, and social problems related to urbanization and industrialization. A steady decline in manufacturing jobs and sprawling suburban development have led to a declining tax base in urban areas, loss of farmland, inadequate infrastructure, and negative environmental and public health impacts. In Detroit, where 83 percent of the population is African American, 39 percent of households have incomes less than $10,000/year. In 2003, 63 percent of children lived below the poverty line or in low-income families. Literacy rates are low and violent crime in the city is three times the national average. In Ann Arbor, where 70 percent of the population is Caucasian, the median household income is $46,299. There are persistent disparities between white and black students in terms of disciplinary measures, test scores, and graduation rates within and across these communities.
Identified Community Needs
Ecological issues in the region include the following:
- The Huron River has contamination from E. coli and phosphorus; the Detroit River from sediment, mercury, and PCBs; and the River Raisin from oil, heavy metals, and PCBs.
- Ann Arbor has a spreading plume of dioxane from the Pall-Gelman Corporation.
- Detroit has 40,000 empty lots, many of which suffer contamination from lead, mercury, and other toxins.
- Michigan’s only oil refinery, the largest municipal incinerator in the United States, and other polluting facilities are located in Detroit. The region’s asthma rate is over three times the national average.
Members of the SEMIS recognize the interrelated impacts of urbanization and industrialization on the Great Lakes fishery, the larger surrounding ecosystems, and the quality of human life in the area. They are committed to advancing stewardship via the following principles that form the foundation of their work together:
- A strong and viable Great Lakes ecosystem includes human communities that are nested in and dependent upon a variety of natural resources.
- Stewardship of the Great Lakes in southeast Michigan is defined by the ability to identify, connect with, and protect one’s “place” in the context of these natural resources.
- Human cultures create beliefs and behaviors that affect social, economic, and ecological systems. Thus, issues of social and ecological justice are interrelated and must be addressed together.
- A sustainable southeast Michigan depends upon diversity—both human and ecological—and is thus best served by strong democratic systems and an educated citizenry.