Diversity at The University of Michigan
The subject of diversity on college campuses has always been a hot topic. At the University of Michigan, one of the largest public universities in the United States, the emphasis revolves around number of people by race. Webster’s dictionary offers two definitions of diversity: a) “the condition of being diverse (variety), i.e the inclusion of diverse people (as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization (programs intended to promote diversity in schools)”, and b) “an instance of being diverse (a diversity of opinion)” (366). The University of Michigan’s mission statement claims that it has a “long-standing commitment to diversity” and that it “celebrates and promotes diversity in all [of] its forms” (Mission). Based on the definition of diversity provided by the Webster Dictionary, this would mean that the University of Michigan includes diverse people from different cultures and races in a variety of school organizations, and that it also encompasses a wide-range of opinions. So, is the University of Michigan diverse? Is there a different way to define diversity? Based on one definition of diversity, the University of Michigan is in fact a diverse university as it offers over a thousand ways for students of different cultures to be involved in activities together and on campus. There are many ways to define diversity, and depending on how a person defines diversity, the University of Michigan can be considered to be an extremely diverse campus, although it is not exempt from racial tensions on campus, which means that Michigan still has some work to do in providing all students with a safe environment to conduct their studies.
According to the second definition from the dictionary, in order for something to be diverse there needs to be an “instance of being diverse”, which means that there should be people of different cultures, backgrounds, opinions, etc. In this case the University of Michigan is diverse due to the number of people who come from all over the world. On the University of Michigan website, it states that there are “students from every state and 114 countries” (Current Students). Some of these countries include, Turkey, Switzerland, Germany, Afghanistan, Belarus, and Azerbaijan. Different cultures are celebrated in each of these countries, different languages are spoken, and just like in the United States, people of different religions, beliefs, interests, and skin colors live in these countries. These are only six examples of the 114 countries that students come from to attend the University of Michigan. Considering that each country is unique, and people of different beliefs and backgrounds come from each country, the campus in Ann Arbor is diverse by definition. This is an example of how the campus can be diverse in a way that is not solely based upon racial diversity.
Diversity at the University of Michigan is so much more than race. In addition to having students from all different cultures on campus, this college provides nearly endless ways for students to engage in programs at the University. Another way that the University of Michigan supports the dictionary’s definition of diversity is by offering a huge variety of organizations for its diverse student body’s participation. On Maize Pages, a popular website for students to use, when conducting a search on the different organizations and clubs at the University of Michigan, one will find that there are 1,277 different organizations for students. Some of these clubs include the Gay and Lesbian club, the Acoustic Guitar club, the Amazin’ Blue A Capella club, the American Geriatrics Society, the American Sign Language club, Angels on Call club, Autism club, the Anthrolopolgy club, and even the Ann Arbor Ninja Warrior Club. These are just a few of the organizations that illustrate the diversity of students and variety of interests at the University of Michigan. There are even clubs on campus that focus specifically on diversity. Out of the 1,277 organizations on campus, when a search for the keyword of “diversity” is performed, 57 organizations come up in the results. Some of these clubs include: the Arab Student Association, the American Asian Association, the Diversity Student Coalition, the Markley Multicultural Affairs Council, and the Organizational Diversity Initiative (Maize Pages).
Not everybody believes that organizations define diversity as soley as a strict focus on diversity as the number of people of a certain skin color. It is true that since the ban of affirmative action in Michigan was re-voted into the Michigan legislature in 2006, the number of minorities represented at the University of Michigan has decreased significantly. According to a 2014 article from mlive, written by Julianne Hang, “black student enrollment at the University of Michigan dropped 30%”, which leads her to write that there will be, “no escape from racism” unless something is done to stop avoiding racial oppression (2). Is a campus that encompasses over 40,000 students who come from all 50 states and over 100 countries racist? According to another 2014 article from mlive, written by Kellie Woodhouse, “The [University of Michigan] has become more competitive and Michigan high schools aren’t producing enough minority students who are prepared for the rigor of a U-M education” (1). As a school that strives to be among the “leaders and the best”, the University of Michigan has become highly selective, meaning that if students do not fit their academic requirements they will not be accepted into the University of Michigan. As this article states, since minority students are not as prepared as they should be for a college education from Michigan, the number of minority students enrolled is decreasing. Mark Bernstein, a University of Michigan regent, was quoted in this article stating, “There are fewer minority students on campus and it’s an increasingly lonely place and that is a tragedy unfolding before our very eyes” (1). Here, Bernstein equates having a lower enrollment of minority students is making the campus “lonely”. In this sense Bernstein is implying that this lack of a mixture of students is not good for the University, because in Bernstein’s terms it means that campus is not diverse. Hence, if it is not racially diverse, campus is not as full as it should be. From this quote it is implied that if there were more minority students enrolled there would be a greater sense of community and accomplishment at the U of M. Does a decreasing number of enrolled minorities mean that the University of Michigan is not diverse? Among 40,000 plus students, is campus truly a lonely place, just because there are not nearly as many minorities represented on campus as the majority? As the dictionary stated, diversity is not solely the amount of people on campus of a certain color. Because of the Affirmative Action ban, the University of Michigan cannot control how many people of a certain race are accepted or denied, but this being said, it doesn’t mean that the University doesn’t try to make campus diverse in other ways.
The University of Michigan is one of the most advanced universities in the United States in terms of how handles diversity. In an articled titled, “Long-Term Transformations: Excavating Privilege and Diversity in the Academy”, author Frances A. Maher states that, “U‐M is farthest along the continuum – in the sense that the synergy between the goals of ‘diversity’ and ‘excellence’ has distinguished institutional discourses there over the past two decades” (1). The University may not be as racially diverse as some believe it needs to be, but it is impossible to deny Michigan’s efforts to promote diversity. Also, as mentioned previously race is just one way diversity can be defined. The University of Michigan chooses to define diversity as a mixture of many different attributes. That being said, Michigan has made many efforts to try and keep campus diverse in different aspects. One of the first efforts to promote campus diversity emphasized hiring more women of color into positions of power in the University. This proves that the University not only recognized that it is important to make sure that all people of different skin colors are included, but also that there should be a mixture of gender in the work area and on campus. From the same article, an agenda that plans for greater diversity and inclusion created by James Duderstadt, the former president of the University of Michigan, is described in detail:
U‐M to increase the presence and participation of women faculty and staff at all ranks, ensure that women of color are full beneficiaries of all components of the agenda, restructure faculty tenure and promotion policies, appoint and retain 10 new senior women faculty, adopt policies encouraging flexibility in managing the intersection of work and family responsibilities, and become ‘the leader among American universities in promoting and achieving the success of women as faculty, students, and staff’. (5)
Here the University is addressing diversity in terms of not only color, but gender, age, and financial support. Today, the University of Michigan is still making efforts to promote diversity. This article also includes an interview with Duderstadt, where he stated that the University “could not be a great university without being a diverse university” (1). In addition Duderstadt states that, “[diversity] would apply to race, it would apply to gender, it would apply to gay rights” (1). Michigan does offer a diverse campus – in the sense that on campus many different attributes of students strongly enhance the diversity on campus. On the other hand though, Michigan could still promote the inclusion of students of different races. Michigan tries to promote diversity and excels in different ways at doing so, but it could always be better. It is important to acknowledge the difference between complete diversity and diversity within one attribute of a diverse range of attributes.
However, it is also important to acknowledge how students feel about the diversity of campus. To gain a sense of public opinion, I sent a survey out to my peers. The questions were, “How would you define diversity?” The options of: a) race, b) athletics, c) religion, d) clubs, e) all of the above, and f) other were provided. If a person chose to select “other” they could provide their own answer. The second question said, “Do you believe that the University of Michigan offers a diverse campus to students?” For this question a text box was provided for the students to explain why their answers. The results from the small sample of students whom responded (63) are illustrated in the pie chart below.
The majority of responses stated that students do believe that Michigan does offer a diverse campus. Of the 63 students, 38 students believe that diversity is defined by race, religion, athletics, and clubs (six of those people believed it was even more than that). To conclude, the students surveyed believe that diversity involves multiple factors, all of which are present at the University of Michigan. One student wrote, “Yes [it is diverse], it is representative of a myriad of cultures, religions, races and opportunities…” and that there are “chances for students to express themselves through cultural clubs and a wide array of organizations including politics, religion, sports, music, and drama clubs.” This is a more broad and inclusive way of defining diversity, but this definition of diversity does not limit diversity to only one factor, and means that the University of Michigan can try to maintain a diverse campus in many different ways.
Unfortunately though, this does not mean that everyone agrees that the definition of diversity refers to a combination of many different parts of campus. Sixteen of the respondents believe that diversity is solely represented in terms of race. A different responder wrote, “No [it is not diverse], there are not enough minorities, such as African Americans and Latinos represented. There is also a lack of cultural awareness on campus.” In this case, the student refers to the amount of diversity by race, acknowledging that he/she has noticed that there are not nearly as many minorities on campus, which means that since there are not a large variety of people of different skin colors on campus, campus is not diverse. This would be considered to be a lack of visible diversity, as while there may not be as many minorities on campus as the White and Asian majority, the huge variety of different cultures and backgrounds of all of the different people on campus is not being acknowledged. As one can see from these results, there are differing opinions regarding diversity on campus. In general, it seems that if one defines diversity as a combination of many different aspects of life, then they will believe that the University of Michigan is diverse. If a person defines diversity by a person’s race though, then the campus of the University of Michigan is not diverse.
In conclusion, there are different ways to define diversity, and whether the University of Michigan is diverse or not really depends on how one defines diversity. As for me, I am going to chose to define diversity as “All of the above, and more.” I believe that diversity at the University of Michigan is represented by a variety of different cultures and backgrounds. It is emphasized by the numerous amounts of clubs and organizations on campus. I believe that a combination of athletics, ideas, religion, races, gender, sexual identity, and socioeconomic status makes the University of Michigan diverse. Not everybody agrees with my definition of diversity though, and it is important to note that even though the University of Michigan can be diverse in many aspects, it can also have problems with the number of minorities admitted. Some people believe that since the University of Michigan does not have more minority representation on campus, Michigan in turn is racist. It is important to be able to differentiate between diversity though, what the University can control, and race, which the University does not have control over. Affirmative action is banned at the University of Michigan, thus considering race is not allowed in the admissions process. These are two different issues that can get confused, leading to hostilities on campus. However, I too will not deny that racism is believed to exist on campus, although racism and diversity are different. On campus every year there are multiple protests against the University of Michigan regarding minority enrollment. One of the most profound student movements at the University is the group, Being Black at the University of Michigan. In January of 2014, students came together in a protest in order to help raise awareness of racism on campus (Woodhouse, 2). The students “demanded 10 percent black enrollment, an echo of what the Black Action Movement had asked for 44 years ago and U-M had failed to deliver” (2). This was only one of the seven requests students made on this day directed towards the University. The BSU group gave administrators seven days to complete their seven demands, saying that unless the University took action, students would take matters into their own hands.
The students are pictured below.
These pictures actually emphasize one attribute of diversity on campus, which is the diversity of student voices (which can be related to a diversity of students with different backgrounds). It’s important to be able to have a diversity of students with different opinions because without this effort from the students to voice their concerns about diversity on campus, it is possible that the issue of racial tension would not seem as important of a problem. This picture shows how diverse the student body is, but again, these students were protesting the lack of minorities on campus, and the lack of opportunities and tools provided to black students in order to succeed. Unfortunately, today the University has yet to meet many of these demands, such as the 10% enrollment of black students to the University. By my definition of diversity, Michigan offers a diverse campus to students, but this demonstrates that by no means is Michigan exempt from racial problems that have been nationally reoccurring for years. Although the University has tried to overcome many racial barriers, it still is unable to guarantee the same opportunities for everyone, which is a problem that still deserves constant effort and attention on campus to relieve.
Lastly, in order to remain among the leaders and the best, the University of Michigan has to be leaders in all aspects of education, including diversity. While the University of Michigan may already seem to be diverse enough, there is always room for improvement. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” As a university that influences the world, the University of Michigan needs to maintain its diversity and improve its minority enrollment to continue to be the “leaders and best”. If this can be done, maybe slowly students will begin to acknowledge that the term diversity encompasses a lot of different meanings, and that a lack of minority representation on campus does not mean there is a lack of effort in trying to maintain diversity.
UPDATE: On January 9, 2015 University of Michigan president, Mark Schlissel, revealed to the press that he has a new plan that he hopes will increase the amount of enrolled black students on campus. This is huge news for the University, as in the past when students have brought up diversity issues on campus there has been talk of plans to change the way the campus approaches diversity, although accomplishments are slim. David Jesse, author of the Detroit Free Press article, “Schlissel to unveil plan to make U-M campus more diverse”, writes that in the spring “[Schlissel] will launch a new campus-wide diversity plan to increase enrollment of black students and other under-represented minorities” (Jesse, 1). As a student on Michigan’s campus, it will be really interesting to see the results of President Schlissel’s plan, and if the enrollment of minorities will actually increase, meaning that the plan has been successful. The plan itself is to have “the deans and directors of U-M’s various colleges and centers… develop detailed recruitment and admission plans to increase the diversity on campus,” as President Schlissel reported. (Jesse, 1). Currently on campus, enrollment is one of the biggest issues, and since it is one of the biggest it’s also one of the hardest issues to tackle as there are so many different factors involved. I believe that it’s important that Mr. Schlissel is heading right into one of the biggest diversity issues on campus, which is the fact that in terms of minority enrollment, there are not many minorities enrolled compared to other races. I think this will show great leaps in the fight against campus racism if more minorities enroll at the University of Michigan for Fall 2015 semester.