The University environment is not supportive of minority students, said organizers of a teach-in Friday.
PISSED OFF, People in Support and Solidarity Educating and Discussing Organizing for Fairness, brought together a wide range of multicultural and activist student groups to discuss campus attitudes toward minorities and ways for the University community to create a more welcoming environment for all students.
An incident last month in which two Asian students were allegedly urinated on by two University students was not the only impetus for the event – which was sponsored by 15 campus groups representing a vast array of ethnic groups.
Workshop leaders said stereotypes of various minority groups – which they said are prevalent among University students, faculty and staff – foster a hostile and divided campus community.
“The preconceived notions that we bring affect how much we will like somebody or even if we will sit next to them,” said LSA senior and Michigan Student Assembly Rep. Melton Lee, who led a workshop about portrayals of the black community in campus media.
Stereotypes can also lead to more aggressive forms of prejudice and bigotry, Lee added.
Last month’s alleged incident is just one example of a wider problem of ethnic discrimination and racial harassment on campus, said Business senior Stephanie Kao, co-chair of United Asian American Organizations.
“It’s an experience that almost every minority has gone through in one form or another,” she added.
APIA Change, a coalition of Asian students, faculty and staff, hopes to develop a survey to document and provide quantitative data about students’ experiences with hate crimes and ethnic discrimination on campus, Kao said.
She added that while the University understands that diversity is important, the administration often treats diversity as a recruitment tool and an educational opportunity for “nondiverse” students and does not provide enough funding for ethnic student groups to facilitate all of the cultural and issue-oriented programming their communities need. A single cultural show can use up a group’s entire allocation from the University, she added.
Minority student groups can apply for funding from the Michigan Student Assembly and Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, among other sources.
Arab students also voiced concerns that they are overlooked because the University doesn’t classify them as minorities. On the University undergraduate application, students of Middle Eastern origin are asked to mark their ethnicity as Caucasian/White.
Although students had a range of experiences, they said they felt comfortable voicing their
opinions and discussing sensitive issues, said Megan Biddinger, president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization.
“We’ve achieved good campus climate today,” she said. “(It was) not just a lot of different people in the room for the sake of having them there.”
A positive campus climate means not only a more welcoming environment for minorities, but also improved relations between University communities, including undergraduate and graduate students and students, faculty and staff, Biddinger said.
An environment that encourages respectful and open communication would improve the quality of education at the University by allowing students to ask harder questions and explore ideas further, she added.
But creating a dialogue is only the first step for changing campus climate; Students must actively fight stereotypes and discrimination, said Sharon Lee, president of Students of Color of Rackham.
Event organizers asked students to sign pledges committing themselves to at least three actions during the academic year to curb discrimination and make the campus climate more positive.
One of the most important actions students can take is to speak up when they witness discrimination or hear racial slurs, said SCOR member Melynda Price.
“When you see other people being discriminated against, you need to speak it and recognize it for what it is,” she said. “Saying what happens, there’s a power in that.”
The Office of Student Affairs has compiled a list of University offices to which students can report incidents of discrimination and hate crimes. The list will most likely be mailed out to the entire student body this week, said Dean of Students Sue Eklund, who attended Friday’s event.
The OSA is also in the process of reevaluating its existing services for minority groups and bringing together students, officials from the Department of Public Safety and staff to discuss the issue of ethnic stereotypes in the context of crime prevention, Eklund said.
SCOR and the other groups that organized the event will continue to work together to determine the specific measures the University should take to continue to improve the campus climate, said Hugo Shi, SCOR’s political action chair.