The University is using a new weapon in its crusade for increased diversity, but it’s not a lawyer or an admissions policy — it’s freshmen.
This offensive was in the form of a program yesterday and Sunday called “A Day of Change,” and it aimed to encourage freshman to leave their residences and develop friendships across social barriers.
During previous Welcome Weeks, students made smooth transitions to college life yet “stayed within their own (social) groups,” said Drew Tinnin, coordinator of orientation and welcome programs for the University. “We wanted to provide an opportunity where they could interact in an intergroup setting.”
The sessions, the first of their kind at the University, may be the start of a new wave of diversity-centered welcome programs.
“This program is being replicated at places like U of M Flint, and I will work with student representatives throughout the Big Ten,” to implement similar programs, said Michigan Student Assembly President Jesse Levine.
More than 350 students attended the program, which was sponsored by M-Justice, a new initiative by the University’s Division of Student Affairs. There, they listened as speaker Maura Cullen, an educational consultant, implored them to reach out to students from different backgrounds.
“Going to college is like going from Kansas to Oz. Life is very different. People look different, and they talk different,” she told her audience.
Additionally, 14 student and administrative groups from across campus joined forces to foster further interaction through community service. Program leaders used the Ginsberg Center’s annual Community Plunge, a fair for various community programs, to bring students of different backgrounds together to address social injustices through local service organizations.
Activities ended Monday night with “ExChange,” an organized dialogue held at Palmer Commons. Students learned about labeling during an exercise in which each was required to select an identity. Then, breaking into groups, they outlined various stereotypes that are commonly applied to their group.
Students said they found it difficult to settle on one identity, many acknowledging Cullen’s statement that common social identifications are broad and often too rigid.
“Initially, I chose the label ‘woman’ and later, I chose the label ‘African-American,’ as different aspects revealed themselves throughout the discussion” said LSA junior Temeca Simpson.
At a glance, the day was a success. Lured by free food and opportunities for community service, students came and made the connections Tinnin and other event planners desired.
But program planners acknowledge that it is up to the students to integrate their social groups.
“We have more in common than we have different, but we tend to notice the differences first,” Cullen told her audience. “But noticing doesn’t make us bad people. It’s what we do when we notice that counts.”
– Jeremy Davidson contributed to this report