Students talk diversity at multicultural event

Erin Kirkland/Daily
The student panel shares their views on cultural identities at the University during a discussion sponsored by H.E.A.D.S. on Thursday, April 7. Buy this photo

BY DAVID BUCCILLI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 8, 2011

The issue of diversity within the University community took center stage at a panel discussion last night.

Organized by the black student group Here Earning A Destiny Through Honesty, Eagerness and Determination of Self, or H.E.A.D.S., the panel sought to “break down racial stereotypes in all communities and to spread awareness and knowledge about these communities,” LSA senior James Stinson III, the co-chair of H.E.A.D.S., said.

The panel, titled “Around the U: Perspectives of Identities,” was comprised of eight University students from different ethnic, cultural, religious and social backgrounds who fielded questions about their cultural experiences. Over the course of the discussion, the speakers emphasized how their backgrounds have impacted their University experiences.

Addressing the audience, panel member and former Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong, who is the first openly gay assembly president, said the University is a progressive institution focused on diversity and multicultural awareness.

“In terms of the mindsets, the University is very diverse,” Armstrong said. “(It is) filled with individuals who are constantly trying to look for experiences outside their often personal communities.”

However, LSA senior Roderick Morrison, the other co-chair of H.E.A.D.S., said the University doesn’t do enough to accommodate its diverse population.

“I would go as far as to say that the U of M accommodates for us, but it is not … an authentic accommodation,” Morrison said.

Later, Morrison added that, “Diversity cannot be forced in an environment where you just place people with different identities in a room.”

LSA senior Rachel May, president of Zeta Sigma Chi Multicultural Sorority, Inc., said though the University is diverse, people from different backgrounds often choose to remain within the comfort zone of the groups they identify with.

“Despite our being a diverse campus, we’re also very segregated,” May said during the panel discussion. “There are so many clubs and groups and organizations for people to come together over their likenesses, but there’s not enough for people to come together about their differences.”

May illustrated this with a story about having to prove her Jewish identity in a conversation with another student.

“After class one day I was talking to a student, and I told her that I was Jewish,” May said, adding that the student proceeded to ask if she was “really Jewish or kind of Jewish.”

May said she felt her religion was called into question because of her race.

“I can’t help but think that if I wasn’t black, she wouldn’t have asked me that question,” May said.

LSA junior Sarah Awad-Farid, who is a member of the Egyptian Student Association, said she it is difficult to find somewhere to pray during the day. However, once she finds a place, Awad-Farid said she still faces challenges.

“It is really uncomfortable praying in an open space, and you don’t want to make other people uncomfortable,” she said.

While some students said they feel the University doesn’t entirely accommodate their beliefs, Kinesiology senior Dorian Shaw said as a member of the softball team that she felt the University was sometimes too accommodating just because she is an athlete.

“Everything that you do is centered around South Campus and the Athletic Department, which is really convenient,” Shaw said. “But at the same time, it kind of cuts you off from the rest of campus.”

Because of this feeling of separation, Shaw said she has some friends who refuse to wear Michigan athletic gear to class because they would be recognized as a student-athlete. She added that classmates have talked to her and fellow athletes about having others do their work and not having to work as hard as other students.

Interviewed after the panel, Stinson said the discussion provided an important forum for an eclectic range of speakers to express their personal experiences and to listen to others.

“This was an opportunity for everyone to be heard equally,” Stinson said.