BY AYMAR JEAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 8, 2004
For years, researchers have strived to understand
Detroit’s most infamous characteristic, segregation, a
consistent point of contention for most of the 20th century.
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During the economic boom of the 1990s, the city experienced
similar development with a disturbing caveat: racial segregation
persisted. One researcher’s desire to explain this problem
raises questions about the ever-changing relationship between
Detroit and the University.
Sociology Prof. Ren Farley’s study, which starts this
spring, will examine the causes of racial and residential
segregation. He said he wonders if “white opposition to
living with blacks and black opposition to living with whites (is)
rooted in racial discrimination, or is it rooted in other factors
such as perceptions of socioeconomic differences?”
Professors and philanthropists flock to Detroit for obvious
reasons — with a history of civil rights activism and
persistent segregation, the city provides numerous opportunities
for research and community service.
But some see the relationship between the University and the
city as unequal. Professors expressed concern about the image of
academics from distant Ann Arbor venturing into Detroit with
hypotheses and agendas, seemingly without consideration for the
community they seek to study and aid.
Given these concerns, some professors are ever-mindful of their
image in Detroit.
“The relationships historically have not been all that
wonderful,” political science Prof. Gregory Markus said.
But not every professor believes that the University has a
strained relationship with Detroit. Farley has had many positive
experiences working with residents on his research.
“When we knock on their doors and get interviews, there is
no resistance. Indeed the University of Michigan has a rather
positive image. As I said, I’ve been doing research in
Detroit since 1976, and I think saying you’re from the
University of Michigan actually opens doors,” Farley
“I wish there were stronger connections between the
University and Detroit, but there are quite a few already,”
The issue, however, has prompted action in the past. A number of
professors, including those in social work and public health, have
noticed the University’s image problem in Detroit. Feelings
of exploitation have bred antagonism and distrust, some have
With history in mind, faculty members servicing schools,
organizing political action and conducting research are striving to
overcome the University’s image problem.
As a professor in the School of Education, Stella Raudenbush
directs the Lives of Urban Children and Youth Initiative, a
community service-oriented program in which University students aid
schools and participate in mentorship and recreational activities
“In the school program, we support academic instruction
and work in culturally supportive activities,” Raudenbush
Mentors and volunteers take classes at the University, where
they study the sociology of Detroit and the dynamics of performing
service. Students also receive a summer internship in Detroit,
conducting various community services. The purpose is to immerse
undergraduates in a particular area to help them understand the
influences on a community, she said.
The benefits for both students of the University and children in
Detroit are evident, and students, many of whom are part of the
Michigan Community Scholars Program, are dedicated to each of the
community partners, Raudenbush added.
But programs in the past have been perceived negatively, seen as
transient and uncommitted, noted Raudenbush.
“That’s a problem. And that’s why we’ve
designed the program so that the students work within the same
program for two years — so that they can really develop a
relationship with the people in the program,” Raudenbush
Adrienne Hunter at the University Preparatory Academy in Detroit
— which receives mentors from LUCY — said the program
has run smoothly, the only glitch being an occasional scheduling
The program demands commitment and consistency. When one
student’s schedule conflicted with that of the
school’s, she opted not to participate.
“She didn’t have the chance to really connect with a
student,” said Hunter, who is the community learning
coordinator for the academy.
But while University students must stay within the umbrella LUCY
program for two years, they may not be obligated to stay within a
particular school. During University Prep’s first semester
with LUCY, five mentors were in the program, but only two stayed
for the next. The other three students went to other community
partners in Detroit.