Defining Diversity: Students Speak Out

BY FARAYHA ARRINE
Michael Kan and Karen Schwartz
Published March 26, 2004

In recent years, the University has received national attention
because of its use of race-conscious admission policies to ensure a
diverse student body.

Julie Pannuto

Attracting students from various ethnic backgrounds, the
University now touts itself as the embodiment of a diverse
educational environment.

And many students agree that campus diversity allows for a
deeper understanding of different perspectives.

But how diverse is the University?

Does interaction exist between students of different
backgrounds? Do students equally recognize multiple types of
diversity? And what does diversity really mean to them?

The Michigan Daily set out across campus to find out what
students today think about the issue.

Students approached had very different points of view on the
subject — some students said diversity at the University only
goes so far, with self-segregation common on campus and limited
social interaction between groups. Others said the University
promotes racial integration while ignoring other factors including,
but not limited to, religion, geography and economic status, which
students say also contribute to multiculturalism.

For many students, these issues still present more questions
than answers.

According to University enrollment records, 27 percent of the
student body is made up of racial or ethnic minorities —
including blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans
— but many students still question how diverse the ensuing
interaction is.

“I think there is a large mixture of different cultural
backgrounds at the University, but how much those different
cultures interact with each other is another thing, and on a
smaller scale,” LSA junior Tom Miller said.

Many students said self-segregation is a way of life on campus.
Several students interviewed said they mostly socialize with people
of their own race. But some students added that self-segregation is
understandable — it is easier to make friends with
individuals of the same ethnicity because of a shared
background.

“To me it’s hard (to make friends outside my race)
just because it’s human nature. Some people are always going
to instinctively hang out with their own (race). I don’t
think you can do a whole lot to change that,” LSA sophomore
Phil Copper said.

LSA sophomore Joe Schramski added that, “It’s just
the way it happens. Most people aren’t super outgoing to go
hang out with other people (outside of their race). They are
comfortable with the friends they have and they stay with
that.”

Copper also said he doesn’t think it is necessary to meet
people of different backgrounds. “It’s not that big of
a deal. When you hang out with people you can learn stuff from
them. But you can learn stuff from anyone. So I don’t see
that it’s very likely that you would be missing
out.”

While some students surveyed also said they mainly socialize
with individuals from the same racial background, they also said it
is neither a necessary nor exclusionary distinction.

“Just as long as they are good people, that’s all
that matters (when making friends),” said LSA junior Eric
Holmberg.

It’s simply because the majority of the student population
is white that most people find themselves with white friends,
Miller said.

“It’s just whoever I meet. It doesn’t matter
to me,” he added.

Others said students who socialize primarily with their own
ethnic group should make more of an effort to interact with
students of different ethnicities on campus. But it’s just as
important that students feel accepted, LSA junior Rosalyn Maben
said. “We should all try, but we should also try to feel
comfortable,” she said.

Perspectives, attitudes and ways of life make diversity mean
more than just immediately noticeable differences, Schramski
said.

“You can’t tell (as much with) other parts of
diversity, superficially, as you can with race,” he said.
“Diversity is more about other things, but race is the only
thing people notice.”

Schramski’s friends come from different economic
backgrounds and different areas of the country — factors that
he said contribute to their unique perspectives.

“One of my friends has never really had a summer job. His
parents are both wealthy and he doesn’t need it. But then
there’s one of my friends from Hawaii. … For him
things are completely different. It’s really interesting in
talking to him and how he talks about people from Michigan, because
he’s not used to Midwesterners,” he said.

People often use generalizations because they’re simple
ways of thinking, School of Education junior Krishna Williams said,
even if they are aware and conscious of multicultural issues. But
it’s not necessarily a bad starting point, she added.

“I think it’s OK to generalize at first because more
than likely it’s going to happen anyways. We categorize and
that’s how we try to figure things out,” she said.
“But you don’t leave it at that. You go check it out
and see if you’re right — you might learn something
new.”

LSA sophomore Kendra Jones said she could imagine that members
of her sorority walking down the street together could be perceived
as a group lacking diversity because of racial similarities.

Members also come largely from the same geographical location
and identify as Christians, she said, but diversity in the sorority
runs much deeper. Sisters draw from different experiences and have
a variety of unique opinions, which she said could go unnoticed to
people passing by.

“I don’t think people see that diversity. They just
see a group of black Christian girls from Detroit, they don’t
see the diversity within the group,” she said.

 

 

Whatever the answers to the complex questions regarding
diversity may be, Jones said more discussion is needed among
different groups to promote meaningful conversations about
tolerance. “When you see things like racial slurs in
bathrooms and hate crimes, obviously it’s not working,”
she said.

But is discussing diversity enough? LSA sophomore Brian Ro said
he thinks other measures have to be taken. Ro said his freshman
year in West Quad living with people of different racial and
economic backgrounds was an eye-opener other students might have to
experience to believe.

Especially after freshman year when students begin moving out of
the residence halls, Ro said they have little incentive to try and
meet new people.

“Forcing (people to live together) would be nice, but at
least the University needs to encourage students to see how great
it can be to live with different people,” he said. Ro also
suggested that professors make an effort to include more group work
in class so that students are forced to work with others they may
otherwise not have interacted with.

LSA sophomore Candice Boyd said there are other ways to bring
people from different backgrounds together. She said a free and fun
event put on by more than one organization could create an
environment where people could meet otherwise unlikely friends.

“The University should target those that want to be
involved in more diverse groups but don’t know how to go
about it,” she said.

But students were divided on how important it is to make friends
outside of their racial group.

For LSA freshman Nitin Gupta, interacting with a diverse group
helps him to “get away from stereotypes (and) the superior
attitude we’re brought up with from elementary
schools,” he said.

He added that when he was picking a university, diversity was
one of his main considerations. Impressed with the diversity in his
resident hall and on campus, Gupta said he enjoys hearing views
from his friends from other cultures.

“I’m a person who loves to meet new people and a
variety of people,” he said. “I think it’s really
important for people to get in touch with other cultures and mingle
with people from different nations, just to make a person more
knowledgeable about the world — it leads to a different
experience.”

But Miller wasn’t sure interaction was as necessary.

“I can’t say you need to (interact with different
races). It’s important. Need it? Probably not,” he
said.

So if some students feel diversity is the defining moment of
their college experience and others want the comfort of common
ground with friends who come from the same background, what can
really be said about diversity on campus?

Though Jones feels the state of diversity on campus still has
room to grow, she said the University has come far. “I think
we’ve come a long away from when the school first opened to
now, but it’s still not where it needs to be.”