When I received information about my
freshman roommates, I was ecstatic, as they were people unlike me
in so many ways. We met all the stereotypes of a diverse and
cohabiting University: I, being brown and from Bloomfield Hills was
far removed from my roommates, a black Engineering student from
Southfield and an out-of-state Jewish girl who became a member of a
sorority.

Sravya Chirumamilla

Unfortunately, I made a fatal mistake the first day I moved into
the dorm. Instead of joining my hall mates in a game of Mafia, I
went to a house party with some friends I met during my previous
visits to the University. Soon, I only hung out with these people,
and because I constantly turned down invitations, my roommates
stopped asking me to do things with them.

It wasn’t until a few months into the school year that I
looked around and noticed that none of my close friends were white,
black or of any other race besides South Asian. I was shocked that
throughout my many interactions during the semester, I had failed
to become friends with anyone who was not of my race.

Tracing back my course into homogeneity, I realized that the
people I met before coming to the University were all Indian. I met
these people when I visited the campus for the Indian American
Student Association’s cultural shows and attended the
numerous after-parties, house parties and social events. The people
with whom I interacted all participated in the IASA show, went to
the same mixers and even lived in close proximity to one
another.

I convinced myself that my group of friends was diverse —
sure, everyone was the same race, but we all had different majors,
enjoyed different activities and couldn’t agree on who was
better, Shah Rukh Khan or Hrithik Roshan. Slowly, I became involved
in other minority groups’ cultural shows and events by
helping out with Power Moves and by attending the Black Student
Union’s town hall meetings.

As the year progressed, it became more and more visible that the
concept of lunch-table segregation is clear and apparent in the
cafeterias of the Bur-lodge, Markley and all the restaurants on
campus. This voluntary segregation isn’t limited to
minorities and food venues: Political science majors opt not to
take Prof. Mark Tessler’s class because people engrossed in
the Arab-Israeli discussion dominate the class and non-Greek
students avoid Greeks’ haven in the Washtenaw Avenue and Hill
Street area.

Minority student organizations, while sometimes active in
community service projects, are mainly social groups. They function
under the premise of promoting culture throughout the University,
but mainly act as a means for people of the same race to maintain
one collection of acquaintances.

In fact, people do not expect to find nonminorities at these
events: A white volunteer at a dance show I helped organize was
hassled by a minority security guard, while a Desi volunteer walked
right past him without a badge or identification of any kind
besides the color of her skin and the traditional outfit she was
wearing.

The few white students who are immersed in these events are
recurring at all the minority events. One can expect to find Pete
Woiwode and Rob Goodspeed at these events, but few other white
students venture to these predominantly minority-centric shows and
conferences. In fact, racking my brain for examples of nonminorites
who attend these events, I could only come up with a list of the
above-mentioned two.

The most alarming result of this segregation is the lack of
discourse on the subject: Everyone notices it, but no one wants to
address it. Caught up in the year-long season of cultural shows,
students do not have the time or the interest to add such
discussions to the daily juggle of dance practice, school, work and
social interactions.

Discussions organized by minority groups, useful in examining
the many perspectives on campus, are not met with a substantial
response, as few members attend. When IASA invited members to an
open dialogue about race issues, I was the only person not on the
board who attended. Similarly, when the South Asian Awareness
Network organized an event with widely regarded professors and
media personalities, fewer than 10 people attended. Naturally,
these discouraging turnouts hinder the groups’ willingness to
organize such events.

It was after a year of suffocating in minority-exclusive
situations that I found respite at the Daily. Yes, the same
organization that hundreds of minorities, who had never stepped
inside the building and who often don’t read the paper, had
the audacity to claim was racist, offers students the most
opportunities to experience diversity. Simply throwing a bunch of
students of different colors together does not create diversity.
Necessitating them to interact — and in the Daily’s
case, often under stressful circumstances — brings about
meaningful relations.

All of my parents’ close friends are South Indian, usually
live in the same area and are of the same white-collar professions.
My fear is that even with the variety of people at the University,
most students will observe a lifestyle similar to our
parents’ — one in which we have little to no
interactions with people that differ from our own lifestyle.

Chirumamilla can be reached at
“mailto:schiruma@umich.edu”>schiruma@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *