As students seek out relationships in the diverse, liberal atmosphere of Ann Arbor, they find the general vibe conducive to fostering intimate unions with persons of other races.
“I think there’s encouragement to date outside your race,” Engineering junior Al Boggess said. “A lot of social pressures are off here, as opposed to high school where there’s a lot more pressure to stay with your race.”
RC freshman Molly Raynor said interactions during her childhood in Ann Arbor most likely contributed to her willingness to date interracially. Raynor, who is Jewish, has had three relationships in which her partner was either black or biracial.
“I guess it would be different if I came from a smaller city or town, but because I was here all along, and because people are very receptive here, I feel like I’ve had few bad experiences,” she said.
Ann Arbor’s demographic variety entices many students to enroll in the University in the first place. For some, Michigan is an optimal setting for students of different backgrounds to meet and date.
When it comes to dating, students look past skin tone. Raynor added that while interracial relationships can be eye-opening, they do not exist simply for the appeal of dating someone of another racial group.
“The way I got into all the relationships was definitely based on character,” she added. “I don’t go out looking for a guy based on race. Once in the relationship, I felt that there was something new, that I could learn from the experience more.”
Richard Gates, a black Engineering freshman whose girlfriend is Hispanic, agreed that while interracial relationships are different from same-race relationships, race does not affect whom he chooses to date.
“I say it’s a little different because, first of all, there are cultural differences. But I guess once you look past that, love is love.”
However, Gates said, “Most of the relationships on this campus are not for love purposes. I guess the interracial thing in college is just an experiment.”
If there exists a fundamental difference between dating in college and in high school, it is the prospect of marriage in college relationships. Students in college who have dated outside their race have often run afoul with more conservative family members.
“Your parents, and perhaps your friends, say it’s OK to date (persons of different races), but as for marrying, forget it,” said David Harris, an assistant professor of sociology in LSA. “The social pressures clamp down and say, ‘you’re going to marry the right person, even if you’re dating the wrong person.'”
Harris recently published a paper titled “Cohabitation, Marriage and Markets: A New Look at Intimate Interracial Relationships,” in which he finds that interracial couples live together out of wedlock more often than they marry. For example, on a national level, whites and black are over eight times more likely to cohabit than they are to marry. Blacks and Hispanics are seven times more likely to live together than they are to wed. For unions between Asians and Hispanics, cohabitation is more than 13 times more probable than marriage.
Students’ experiences are not far off from these findings. Meg, an LSA senior who did not give her full name, said that although her mother accepted her relationship with a black male, she “would make kind of subtle comments to the effect of, ‘this is kind of a phase’ – implying that there was a difference between this and marriage.”
Meg also said she had difficulty introducing her black boyfriend to her family.
“I kind of walked on eggshells with them. First I’d say, ‘OK, I have this boyfriend,’ then I’d bring pictures of him to them, and then I’d introduce him. So I kind of braced them for the idea.”
Furthermore, interracial partnerships can be hard to maintain even when marriage is not in the picture.
“I guess one of the stresses would be trying to explain the things that you do that aren’t normal to someone else,” Gates commented. “Basically, it comes down to stereotypes.”
For Raynor, cultural differences between her and her boyfriend posed roadblocks to their relationship.
“I didn’t realize that until I was in an interracial relationship that you never really understand the experiences of someone who’s a minority. With one of the boyfriends, he didn’t want to explain things to me because he assumed that I wouldn’t understand. There was a gap in understanding, even though we were both trying.