The Michigan Daily - Friday, September 27, 1991 - Page 5
by Rob Patton
Daily Minority Issues Reporter
It was less than five years ago that stu-
dents who saw an intolerant and hostile cli-
mate for minorities at the University took to
he streets in protest.
In the early part of 1987, members of the
United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR)
attracted national attention, demonstrating
against conditions that one UCAR member
described as "extremely alienating" for stu-
dents of color.
The upheaval, most of those who were in-
volved say, has brought some improvements
- along with new questions and problems.
In early 1987, UCAR members saw as in-
1olerable minority enrollment rates well be-
low national and state population percentages,
low retention rates of those who did enroll, a
lack of resources for students of color, and an
atmosphere in which acts of bigotry went
The protests were also sparked by a number
of overt acts of racism on campus. In one case,
a group of Black women meeting in Couzens
Hall found an anonymous flier slipped under
heir door. It declared "open hunting season"
The fight against racism
Education (BMC), an office created as a result
of the UCAR protests. She says that institu-
tions like the BMC, which are directed by mi-
nority students, are an important result of the
"As long as students of color have control
over these institutions and have a say-so in
how they're run, and can use them in a way
that benefits their interests, then they've been
a service," she says.
The creation of such institutions marked
some of UCAR's greatest successes. The BMC
sponsors speakers, distributes literature, and
maintains a book and videotape library de-
voted to material from underrepresented
"Basically, we try to encourage the study
of non-Eurocentric philosophies and models,"
Dixon says. "We try to encourage the study of
race, class, sex, and sexuality. And it's impor-
tant that we have the space on campus to do
The Office of Minority Affairs was an-
other result of the UCAR demands. Charles
Moody, who oversees the OMA as the Vice-
Provost for Minority Affairs (a position cre-
ated along with the OMA), says his office
provides minority students with assistance in
all aspects of University life.
Moody stresses that the OMA doesn't just
work for increased enrollment of minority
"We have programs to make sure that in-
stitutions and policies produce a climate that
all students can live and work in ... to pro-
mote achievement for students that are en-
rolled ... (and) to make sure their achieve-
ments transfer into success after graduation,"
Debates over racism and minority recruit-
ing and retention also revolved around issues
*'If you increase the number
of (students of color) on
campus, you need to
increase the resources'
- Todd Shaw
OMA advisory committee
on "spooks," "saucerlips," and "porch
Only weeks later, a DJ at a campus radio
station broadcast a number of controversial
jokes targeting Blacks. In another incident, a
student hung a KKK uniform from a residence
For many minority students, these high
profile incidents only served to illustrate
dramatically what they had been feeling for
some time: The University was not a place
where they could live and work free from dis-,
crimination and racism.
"At that time, there was a very hostile
climate for people of color on this campus,"
says fourth-year Rackham Student Latrice
Dixon, a member of the now-defunct UCAR
during the protests.
Third-year Rackham student Tracye
Matthews, who was on the UCAR steering
committee, agrees. "It was a very alienating
situation ... We were at a university that
didn't meet our needs. We didn't have a cur-
riculum that included us or services to retain
us once we got in here."
UCAR presented the University with a
list of specific demands: a plan to increase mi-
nority enrollment, an Office of Minority
Affairs, tuition waivers for minority stu
dints, reform in the University's financial aid
ptogram, observance of Martin Luther King.
Day, a required course on diversity and big-
otry, investigation of racial harassment inci-
dents and punishment of those involved, and a
number of other reforms.
* . The immediate results of the protests were
mIixed. The administration agreed to some of
tqe demands, while others were flatly re-
jected. Some were granted, but in a form so
compromised that their original proponents
disowned the final product.
In a more general sense, the movement
caused a change in attitudes toward questions
of racism and discrimination at the University
and brought about some institutional changes
that provided improved resources for minor-
* ity students on campus.
But to what extent were campus attitudes
changed? How much was the situation im-
proved for students of color at the
University? What is the legacy of UCAR?
Dixon currently heads the Ella Baker-
Nelson Mandela Center for Anti-Racist
ment's main achievements was to introduce
ideas like multiculturalism into the main-
"The demonstrations led by UCAR did
change the atmosphere so that a lot of con-
structive debate could be held," he says.
"Before, people laughed at, for example, the
idea that Native Americans had real literature
"As a result of the UCAR protest, we be-
gan the first steps of making the study of lit-
erature richer and more complex, but we have
a long way to go ... Marginalized ideas came
into the mainstream. What was kept in the pe-
riphery is now in the center."
To Matthews, who was involved in many
of the protests, the principle effect was a tem-
porary political awareness on campus.
"Initially after 1987, students became
more mobilized against racism, sexism, and
homophobia," she says. "There was a period
when students said, 'We're not going to allow
these things to happen here.'
"Students of color felt empowered for a
while, but I would have to say from my own
experience that by now things are still pretty
much the same (as they were in 1987)."
In fact, Matthews says, she does not see
1987 as a particularly special year. "It was
jgst that a series of very public, blatant racist
acts coincided with a climate of activism."
Matthews argues that, in the long run, the
University was able to stifle the movement.
"The University put so much money into
its image that activists could not compete,"
she says. "The administration attempted, and
was pretty successful, at adapting the lan-
guage of the movement, and it put up the fa-
cade of adopting the goals of the movement."
This is a sentiment echoed by others, espe-
cially with regard to UCAR's demand for a
mandatory racism course.
UC 299, envisioned as such a course, became
but one of a number of different courses that
fulfill the LSA "diversity requirement." The
diversity requirement is, for many of the orig-
inal proponents of the mandatory course, a
good example of a UCAR demand met in
"watered down" form.
"The original idea was a mandatory class
to address racism, to differentiate between
ideas like racism, prejudice, and bias and to put
these issues in their social and political con-
texts," Dixon says.
However, the proposal narrowly lost a
faculty vote needed for such a requirement.
Then a group of professors proposed that stu-
dents be allowed to meet the requirement by
electing either UC 299 or one of a number of
existing classes. This was the proposal that
was passed in the fall of 1990.
Wald saw the diversity requirement as
much less effective than a required course on
racism. "When the proposition finally passed,
it was very different from the original ... the
guts were cut out of it," he says.
"Some of the courses (that qualify for the
requirement) seem pretty far removed from
racism in the U.S.," he adds. "People argue
that there's racism everywhere, but the issue
of racism here in the U.S. has a particular
Dixon concurs. "Those who don't want to
deal with issues of privilege and power in this
country can choose not to."
Yvonne Williams, a graduate student who
was a UC 299 TA both semesters last year,I
disagrees. She says students should have a
"I don't think it should be left up to one
course that's going to magically enlighten
you," Williams said
UC 299 TA Soler says the University
doesn't do enough with what it has. "The stu-
dents aren't told about the diversity require-
ment: what it means, why it's important," she
This year, in fact, UC 299 has been;
cancelled; according to the University, no fac-;
ulty could be found to teach it.
The course is scheduled to be taught again
in the fall of 1992, but the cancellation,
coupled with other factors, has led some to
question the University's current
commitment to the goals of fighting racism
and providing resources for minority students.
Reed pointed out that a new and interdisci-
plinary course like UC 299 requires more ef-
fort on a professor's part than a regular class,
and says the University should offer addi-
tional credit to professors who teach it.
"A good way to attract professors to the
course would be to create incentives for teach-
ing it," Reed says, adding that bringing fac-
ulty to UC 299 would not only benefit the
course, it would also create a pool of educa-
tors with the knowledge gained from teaching
Soler says the problem is a lack of com-
mitment on the University's part. "I think the
University is willing to do whatever it can
with the least amount of effort. It needs to
take the time, to spend the money, to hire the
people" in order to create a better climate.
Todd Shaw, a doctoral candidate in politi-
cal science who has worked with the Black
Student Union and is now a member of the
OMA advisory committee, points out that
gains in minority enrollment made since 1987
must be matched with an appropriate increase
"I think we're in a more critical period
than we've ever been," Shaw says. "Back in
1987, you did not have the same number of
students of color that you have today. If you
increase the number of people on campus, you
need to increase the resources.
"If you don't match the rise in minority
students with an increase in resources you're
going to return to the situation you had in
1987, if not before."
Others wonder whether a current trend
toward conservativism and the attack on what
is perceived to be "political correctness" will
be harmful to the racial climate at the
"Right now we're in a period of conserva-
tive backlash where people feel they can say
racist things and that's okay because if people
call them racist they're just being 'politically
correct,"' Matthews says.
"People of color are being condemned for
calling racism where they see it."
Wald agrees: "There is an orchestrated at-
tack on the progress that's been made which is
lowering the level of discussion ... Now,
when you propose something to enrich the
curriculum, people say 'Oh, you're PC."'
Though UCAR did not achieve all it set
out to do, the group's legacy is a University
with institutions to support students of color
and an increased tolerance for all groups on
campus. But this is, it seems, a fragile legacy.
As these students and professors who fight
racism look ahead to the battles not yet
fought, they stress the importance of also re-
membering to defend what they have worked
so hard to gain.
Last week, I got a call at the
Daily from 60 Minutes researcher
Lisa Wolfe. She works for Leslie
Stahl, one of the show's hosts,
and had been
do a story on
race relations Stephen
University. H eerso
over the past
with issues of race on college
campuses. Newsweek and Time
magazines have both done cover
stories within the past year, and
two of the three major television '
networks have visited our campus
since I've been here. And
whenever these media outlets use
our campus in their stories, they
call the Daily.
So, when Wolfe called last
week, I talked to her for about a
half-hour. She asked all the usual
questions about race relations at
Michigan, but she also focused a
good number of her queries on the
idea of separatism, or, as she
called it, "voluntary segregation.".
She seemed unusually interested
in the fact that white and Black
students - for the most part -
don't mingle socially on campus,
and why this was true.
At the end of the interview,
she told me she would be on
campus this week, and would
want to talk to me again. We
made arrangements to meet at the
Daily this past Tuesday afternoon.
In the mean time, I thought
about my first interview with
Wolfe and her story in general. I
had an uneasy feeling about her
preoccupation with separatism,
and was worried that this might
be the focus of 60 Minutes' story.
My worries, which I will explain
in a moment, escalated when I
learned that some other students
who had spoken to Wolfe also
noticed her fascination with
It wasn't until Tuesday, when
I met with her a second time, that
I knew for sure this was what she
was after. She told me that
although nothing was definite yet
separatism was the issue she
found most intriguing about race
relations on campus, and she
thought it would give 60 Minutes
a good angle for the story.
In a way, Wolfe was right. A
story focussing on the separate-
nessbetween ethnic groups on
campus would be a good one,
maybe even an award-winner.
But I don't think it would be a
A nationally televised expos
of the "Racial Divisions at the
University of Michigan" would
do more to fuel racial tension and
resentment than to diffuse it. In
fact, there is very little chance
such a story would yield any sort
of positive results - on campus
By harping on "voluntary"
racial divisions here at Michigan,
60 Minutes would be exploiting
what is admittedly a legitimate
problem just to get a good story.
Never mind that the story could
have a devastating effect on
already strained race relations at
the University. Never mind that it
could stigmatize Michigan as
being the model of a segregated
Students likely would react to
such a story with indignation
rather than with goodwill,
possibly even blaming each other
for the problems that would surely
be exaggerated by the glare of
At this point, Wolfe and 60
Minutes seem to be more con-
cerned with "getting the best
story" than with being socially
responsible, and thinking about
the potentially catastrophic fall-
out from that story.
During my interview with
Wolfe on Tuesday, I brought up
the problems I had with her story.
And out of fairness to her, I must
admit that she listened to my
criticisms and suggestions, and
'As a result of the UCAR
protest, we began the first
steps of making the study
of literature richer and
- Alan Wald
of curriculum reform and class content. The
student activists and their allies on the fac-
ulty pushed for mandatory anti-racist
The result was University Course 299, the
seminar on "Race, Racism and Ethnicity."
With two faculty members, four graduate
TAs from five departments and a separate
board to oversee it, the course was an ambi-
tious project, and one that many of the faculty
and students saw as a positive step in breaking
down racism and racial prejudice. But it
Beth Reed, who taught the course last fall,
the first semester it was offered, called it a
Reed, professor of Women's Studies and
Social Work, says the interdisciplinary nature
of the course allowed students to examine
racism in new ways.
"To systematically take a look across dis-
ciplines gives you different levels of insight
than you'd have with a course taught in a sin-
gle discipline," she explains.
Robin Soler, a graduate student who taught
the course during its second semester, agrees.
"It was the first time at the University
that we had an historical, sociological and
psychological study of what racism is," she
"I thought it was definitely worthwhile,"
says LSA sophomore Ronit Hoffer, who took
the course last fall. "It made me see a lot of
things from a different perspective."
In addition to these tangible achievements,
the anti-racism protests in 1987 were also im-
portant in altering attitudes.
Alan Wald - a Professor of English
Literature and a member of Concerned
Faculty,_a group of professors that worked
Wift icc ~