The University has always prided itself as being an inclusive environment; from its admissions protocol to a general culture of liberalism, the campus prides itself as a haven for diversity. But several allegedly racist incidents in the past month have cast a doubt on that claim. From vague Department of Public Safety reports marking robbery culprits as men in “baggy hip-hop clothing” to the very contentious September 15 episode (in which an Asian couple was supposedly urinated on and hit with objects and racial slurs) the University has become a hotbed of debate overnight.

Sowmya Krishnamurthy

Understandably there is outrage; some people are naA_vely shocked that bigotry still exists in this day and age. Groups like the United Asian American Organizations and the Filipino American Student Association have rallied, while the Daily’s editorial page continues to be inundated with responses. Even University President Mary Sue Coleman was prompted to make a statement and sent a campus-wide letter promising more effective reporting mechanisms for hate crimes as well as accessible support for students.

It is certainly refreshing to see such vigor coming from a usually apathetic campus body. Students are demanding answers and the administration, at least in writing, espouses implementing change. But after all the politically correct rhetoric and playing of the blame game, the final outcome is still dubious. Just last week, the “Drew and Mike in the Morning” show on 101.1 WRIF purportedly lampooned the Sept. 15 attack in an anti-Asian radio skit. Art is protected as a form of free speech, but a social cognizance and level of sensitivity can still be expected.

On the opposite side of the gamut is the hypersensitive response, a propensity to construe any and everything as offensive. A recent letter (Bookstore spirit display insensitive to racial past, 09/30/2005), in which a hanging skeleton in a bookstore wearing an anti-Michigan State outfit is correlated to the lynching of African Americans. The writer claims, “Given our nation’s history of violence and discrimination against minority groups and the vivid, horrible imagery that can be powerfully and instantaneously conjured by the display of a lynched human skeleton, I feel a mixture of disbelief and anger.”

I haven’t personally seen the window display in question, but I’m forced to wonder whether the apoplectic writer is being excessive. If the display is as described, the only people being overtly targeted seem to be Spartans.

The problem here is that the malaise at large remains unclear. It is too easy to sacrifice the proverbial scapegoat and censure all white people, the Ann Arbor Police Department, American history, “the Man,” self segregation, crime statistics, etc. for the incidents. It would be just as simple to shrug off what is happening with indifference. Neither is right.

As much as I would like to provide a golden solution, there isn’t one. Ingrained tendencies and bad habits cannot be erased with affirmative action or increasing the Race and Ethnicity class requirements. If we are to prevent future attacks and make the University a safe place for all students, we must recognize that hatred and ignorance are complex issues that require farsighted, holistic cures. That realization, in itself, is the first step to healing.

 

Krishnamurthy can be reached at sowmyak@umich.edu.

 

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