Dave Mekelburg
Rackham student Sirarat Sarntivijai spoke at a forum Friday about the climate on campus. (JEREMY CHO/Daily)

Many students said at a conference Friday that numerous campus groups lack cohesion and communication on divisive issues.

The Climate Matters conference, which involved about 30 University students and staff members in Hutchins Hall, allowed attendees to discuss their perceptions and concerns about the campus community.

The conference began with a panel of students who traveled to California, Texas and Washington state over Fall Break to learn more about how race- and gender-based affirmative action bans affected public universities in those states.

LSA senior James Logan, LSA senior Emily Gomes and LSA sophomore Andrew Dalack – three of the 12 students who visited the schools over the break – gave an informal presentation highlighting their observations of post-affirmative action campuses.

Over the break, Logan visited the University of California at Los Angeles, Gomes visited the University of California at Berkeley and Dalack visited the University of Texas at Austin.

All three students said they felt there was less communication between students and administrators at the schools they visited than there is at the University of Michigan. Logan, Gomes and Dalack all said that the outreach programs aimed at high school students are run completely by university students at UCLA, Berkeley and Texas.

Gomes and Logan said those students often let their outreach come before their academics.

“They were activists,” Logan said.

The event, which spanned four hours, was supposed to split into different workshops after a lunch break, but because so few people attended, a group discussion was held instead.

During the discussion, LSA junior Judith Vazquez said she was concerned about the distance between Trotter Multicultural Center and Central Campus. She said it’s difficult for students to meet at Trotter House when the location is far away from where many students live.

The Trotter House is located on Washtenaw Avenue just south of South University Avenue, about half a mile from the Michigan Union.

Many students agreed that the campus is disconnected and that there’s a need to reach out to those who might not otherwise get involved on campus.

“I think people need to step outside their comfort level,” said LSA junior Mercedes Williams.

Students also discussed the potential danger of campus groups becoming too centralized. For example, a freshman attempting to explore his or her identity might have different needs than a graduate student who has been on campus for a few years.

LSA junior Tiffany Torres said a student’s first year at the University often defines that person’s entire college experience.

“People learn where they’re welcome and where they’re not,” she said.

Friday’s conference marked the second time this year that the University has hosted a discussion about the campus’s atmosphere. The first conference, held in January, took place shortly after the implementation of Proposal 2, which banned public institutions in the state of Michigan from using race or gender based affirmative action.

Sharon Vaughters, senior assistant to the dean of students, said the biggest thing she noticed about the discussion was the greater diversity of the audience than at the first conference and the variety of topics.

Vaughters said she hopes a central location for communication and networking between student groups will be established.

Dean of Students Sue Eklund said she’ll document the ideas discussed at the forum and plan a follow-up meeting to talk more about their implementation.

“I’m very optimistic that this group and other groups will find a way to work together,” she said.

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