When Kinesiology junior Okpalefe Edevbie transferred from Wayne State University to the University of Michigan’s School of Kinesiology, he was excited to learn about a major WSU didn’t offer — Sports Management — which focuses on the interactions of sports and business.” He knew there was less diversity at the University in comparison to WSU, but was surprised at how often he felt he was the only minority student in his courses, specifically in the sport management program.
“In my classes, I’m usually one… if not the only minority student in a lot of my classes, which I thought was interesting particularly in sport management because African Americans influence sports and sports culture so much in this country,” Edevbie said. “But, I thought that there would be at least more African Americans like myself in the program.”
According to La’Joya Orr, managing director for recruitment and admissions for the Kinesiology School, the school’s student population is 77 percent white, 5.8 percent Asian American, 3.5 percent Black/African American, 4.8 percent Hispanic/Latino, 4.3 percent multiracial and 4.6 percent unknown. The University’s overall student population is 65 percent white, 15 percent Asian American, 5 percent Black/African American, 6 percent Hispanic/Latino, 1 percent Native American and 10 percent unknown.
Edevbie said it took him some time to adjust to the predominately white community.
“For the first time in a while, I was just surrounded by people who didn’t necessarily look like me or had the same background as me, and that was a bit of an adjustment for me personally,” Edevbie said.
Edevbie also serves as the Central Student Government representative for the Kinesiology School. He says he tries to make himself as available to Kinesiology students as possible and apply what he learns from them to his work in CSG.
“I take my role in CSG really seriously,” Edevbie said. “The fact that I’m representing students from the University of Michigan as a whole but specifically the school of Kinesiology, I try to make myself as a resource … I try to absorb the different experiences of my classmates and people in my classes because I think it’s also important for me to learn about and recognize their backgrounds.”
Kinesiology junior Cydney Rogers grew up as an athlete and fan of the University’s sports teams. She first began studying athletic training but switched to health and fitness. Since she changed majors, it has become harder for her to connect with her peers.
“Now that I’m in health and fitness, maybe it’s because I switched into their major and I didn’t get to go through all the classes with them when they started off as freshmen, but it’s a little harder to communicate with students,” Rogers said.
Rogers, who is Black, says she hasn’t experienced issues with professors regarding her race, but she feels Kinesiology students do not try to reach out to different peers.
“Inside and outside of the class, students tend to be very cliquey,” Rogers said. “I know it’s like a young-adult type of thing, but they are really cliquey… maybe it’s because they vibe with each other off of freshman year.”
Other students have also noticed friend groups contributing to a lack of diversity in the Kinesiology School outside of the classroom.
Kinesiology freshman Maya Sankaran was inspired to study movement science after an ankle injury prompted her to receive physical therapy. Sankaran is biracial — Indian and white — and though she has not taken many Kinesiology courses yet, she has already noticed the lack of diversity within the Kinesiology community, specifically within the Kinesiology professional fraternity Phi Epsilon Kappa.
“When I joined the Kinesiology frat… I think that’s when I started realizing that … there’s not that many people of color,” Sankaran said. “That was during one of the rushing processes for it. I go up to these different people and say hi to them and that might have been one way it identified in me, because I was one of the non-white people there. I didn’t look white.”
According to Sankaran, she was one of three people of color in her 20-member pledge class.
Though Sankaran says she worries about how her race will be measured toward her qualifications in the job-searching process.
“I think when I meet someone, I don’t take into account their race or their gender, sex and what they might perceive in me because of mine,” Sankaran said. “It’s more of when our initial interactions begin that I’m starting to piece together who this person might be and how I might present myself. I think it might come into place during interviews for certain things, like if they’re trying to meet a diversity quota, that kind of crosses my mind. Will they take me just because I’m a person of color or if I’m a female?”
Some Kinesiology students hope to use their degrees specifically to address minority issues. Kinesiology junior Brianna Kennedy felt drawn toward athletic training and physical therapy as a senior in high school. She began a work-study job in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, inspiring her to seek a graduate degree in sports psychology, where she hopes to make the physical and mental health of Black women the focus of her work.
A Black woman herself, Kennedy has endured more than one instance of racism while at the University. At the beginning of this school year, when a man was arrested outside the Michigan Union for disorderly conduct after calling student protesters the n-word and getting in a fight with one, Kennedy consoled her friends who were present. Last year, a classmate in an English course, who she said was also African American, wrote the word “monkey” on her paper. She said the experience caused her mental distress, and she had to skip her classes and clinicals to process what had occurred.
“I texted my preceptors … I was like, ‘I’m really emotional right now so I can’t come,’ emailed La’Joya (Orr), called my mom, and I couldn’t end the day without notifying these people, so it was just a lot,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the classmate apologized, but she did not accept the apology.
“When I was sitting with my academic adviser, she was like, ‘Well I talked with her and she didn’t really mean it that way. She just wants to apologize,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t want to talk to her ever again,’” Kennedy said. “I don’t feel the need to accept her apology because at 18, 19, 20, you should know.”
In addition to advising students academically, Orr said she also acts as a supporter for students in general.
“In terms of discussing campus issues, just day-to-day life, whether its academic related or not, I find that I tend to be that person more often than not,” Orr said.
To address the lack of diversity, the Kinesiology Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan aims to create a more representative and fair environment for students, faculty and staff.
“Our DEI plan proposes some new programs and initiatives relative to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the statement, written by DEI Director Ketra Armstrong, a professor for sport management, reads. “However, the overall essence of the plan is for us to organically weave, infuse, embed, and integrate a consciousness and sensitivity to elements of diversity, equity, and inclusion into our existing culture — our ways of doing (our policies, practices, and procedures) and our ways of being (our teaching, learning, research, and service).”
Orr also recruits prospective Kinesiology students. While she says she strives to enhance diversity, be it racial, socioeconomic or ethinicity, she says changing the makeup of the student population is not as easy as it may seem.
“The University of Michigan doesn’t have any problems getting applications from students,” Orr said. “So it’s not like you’re trying to find people to apply for the sake of applying, because we don’t have that problem. But you can’t have better numbers if students aren’t applying or if students are being admitted and they don’t see a critical mass here. They don’t feel comfortable … it’s just not as easy as admitting more underrepresented students… students also need to feel that if they were to attend, that they would be in the inclusive environment.”
Orr also feels the issue with inclusivity has become even more prominent among prospective students, as racist incidents on campus have begun to pile up and become visible issues off campus.
“I usually tend to be on the road recruiting when there are issues going on on campus," she said. "It pays to be truthful and I’m glad that I tend to be forthright with the state of campus, because these are students who either have siblings here or friends here and knew what was going on on campus and they’re like, ‘How am I going to be supported? Tell me why I should come.’”
When speaking with students, Orr gives advice on how to feel more included at the University. The one thing she tells them all is to seek out and identify allies — both those who look like them and those who don't.
Sankaran hopes the Kinesiology School can show its students all career paths are possible, regardless of identity.
“I think it’s important to show that these career paths are open to everyone,” Sankaran said. “There’s no boundaries of who can participate in this and who can go for the same goals.”