In light of the greater recognition of racial harassment on campus due to recent events, students are questioning whether the University’s goal of diversity has been effective in fostering a campus climate of tolerance.

University President Mary Sue Coleman said that regardless of Sept. 15’s alleged felony of ethnic intimidation, the incident has provided an opportunity for the entire campus community to reflect upon and address the issues surrounding racial harassment at the University.

“My feeling is the University is working hard,” Coleman said. “But one of the things we sometimes forget is that every year we have thousands of new students who come to us who may not understand what we expect.”

Coleman speculated that acts of disrespect and discrimination toward Asian students might occur because most students who come to the University have had little interaction with people of other cultures. According to data that the University has, many students come from segregated communities.

Coleman cited other possible factors including peer pressure and lack of knowledge of other cultures.

“It is possible that some people don’t realize they are being offensive when they say something,” she said.

Coleman added that while she feels there are structures in place to enable students to experience other cultures and races – such as the race and ethnicity class requirement -the University cannot force people to interact with people from different backgrounds.

“(With this incident), we are reminded that many community members experience bias and don’t report it, so there isn’t full comprehension of what is going on,” said University spokeswoman Julie Peterson.

Peterson said the University wants to establish clear guidelines to ensure that students know how to report incidents of ethnic intimidation and discrimination. Other plans include a campaign addressing hate-related incidents, Peterson said.

“There are a lot of good efforts in place to address race relations and bias issues in general,” Peterson said, “but we can always do more.”

University faculty are also joining in the effort to improve the climate of the campus for students, faculty and staff susceptible to racial harassment.

American Culture Prof. Amy Stillman – who contributed to a letter in which faculty members demanded the University uphold its commitment to diversity by taking immediate action – is working to organize a collective response to the issue of hate crimes.

Stillman outlined several steps that students and faculty should take to combat the occurrence of hate crimes and create a more respectable climate. These recommendations include encouraging students to report racial harassment to the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Student Conflict and Resolution. A public rally on campus involving multiple student groups is also in works.

“We need to talk to our colleagues and draw them into the coalition with us,” Stillman said. “This issue of ‘climate’ is something that affects all of us, and (the faculty) have the opportunity to be the leaders.”

“At a large institution like the University of Michigan, some Asian students feel they have to put up with minor indignities in order to ‘fit in,” said Scott Kurashige, assistant professor in the Asian and Pacific Islander American Studies department.

Kurashige added that while the University has great potential for cultural programming, it needs to take proactive steps to make comprehensive changes to eliminate racism. His department is holding a teach-in today at 7 p.m. in South Quad’s Yuri Kochiyama lounge.

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