14 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 16, 1999
Students ponder definition of diversity
By Swah Lewis
Daily Staff Reporter
Diversity is a familiarword for many people these days, as
the subject of affirmative action continues to be a key issue in
the national higher education spotlight.
Glossy pamphlets for colleges and universities nationwide
proclaim the diversity of their student bodies, while employ-
ment recruiters state their commitment to diversifying the
The Michigan Daily, in conjunction with the Department of
Communication Studies and the Institute for Social Research,
has conducted a survey of student opinion on affirmative
action and admissions policies at the University.
The survey, a representative sample of 87 percent of the stu-
dent body, found nearly 54 percent of female students said
diversity contributed "a lot" to a better college experience, while
only 37 percent of male students felt diversity improved their
college experience. Female students were also more likely to
believe diversity contributed to a quality classroom experience.
Initial results from the survey also found of those students
who believe affirmative action programs at the University have
achieved equal opportunities for women and minorities, more
than 61 percent feel the student body is "very" diverse. But of
students who do not think the University has achieved its goals,
only 23 percent feel the campus is "very" diverse while 59
percent said the campus is "somewhat" diverse.
But University students define diversity in a variety of ways.
Survey participant Cari Glide, an Engineering sophomore,
said diversity includes more than gender, race, sexual orienta-
tion and ethnicity.
"It doesn't come in black and white or colors," Glide said.
"I think diversity is having people from all walks of life."
While Glide said she thinks the diversity of students - in
regard to their personal experiences and backgrounds - is
important, it has failed to impact her education because of the
lack of interaction among students of different backgrounds.
The University campus is diverse in many ways, she said,
but "people still stay within their own groups ... you have a
diverse population that still segregates itself."
Glide said what she perceives as the University's goal of
diversity through affirmative action - to give all people a
chance to attend college despite possibly disadvantaged back-
grounds - is not always apparent.
The Daily's student survey found 58 percent of students
who said diversity added "a lot" to the classroom experience
did not feel the University has achieved its goals in providing
an equal opportunity for women and minorities. But of stu-
dents who said the University has achieved its goals, only 25
percent said diversity adds "a lot" to the classroom experience.
Chemistry Prof. Nancy Konigsberg Kerner also said char-
acteristics like gender and race contribute to diversity at the
University but are not the only factors.
The personal background of students, including knowledge,
individual experiences and hometown are important compo-
nents to judge the diversity of a group, Kerner said.
"And each of us has an individual way we process informa-
tion," she added. "I see that impact every day in the classroom."
Kerner said results of investigations done through course
evaluations that looked at students' perceptions of their knowl-
edge and experience in the course reflect the value of diversity
in the classroom.
Team comprised of students from different disciplines per-
form better than teams of students who have similar academic
backgrounds, Kemer said.
Law first-year student William Johnson said diversity
should be a factor in the admissions process and that it is an
important component of the classroom experience. Discussion
is more "authentic" when the class is diverse, Johnson said.
He added that the concept of diversity applies not only to
the "easy-to-define" characteristics like religion, sexual orien-
tation and ethnicity, but also to factors including political affil-
iation and personality.
Having a narrow cross-section of society represented in
the classroom, Johnson said, can limit the range of discus-
sion. People who have traveled or come from a poor back-
ground lend creativity and "a wider range of ideas to tackle
issues," he said.
In addition to its effects on the classroom experience, diver-
sity is important for students who are preparing for life after
college, Johnson said.
"Society is a colorful place," he said. "People need to know
how to interact with others." Having the opportunity to explore
different cultures and traditions also is "colorful and exciting"
in itself, he added.
Johnson said the University "seems committed to wanting
to have a diverse student body," which he perceives as admin-
istrators "trying to achieve a University representative of peo-
ple across the country."
But while the University is a more diverse place than some
of his experiences, Johnson said it is a matter of relativity.
"It's an issue of creating an environment once people are
here," he said. He added that faculty members could be more
representative of the larger society and that support systems
for underrepresented student groups could be improved.
Although she suggested the University sponsor more cam-
pus events that could bring together the entire community,
Glide said "at the same time it won't matter if people don't
take advantage of it. It's whether or not you choose to expand
your horizons, get to know different people ... you can't force
people to talk to each other."
From the Daily:.
This survey was a collaborative effort
between The Mic igan Daily, the Department
o Communication Studies and the Institute for
The results are
based on 873 interviews
conducted with a stratified to
probability sample of
currently enro tsuin.
Univers student usin a
World ide Web-based
The sample was
drawn by the Registrar's ice and the results
were weighted to account or demoraphy.
Interviews were collected between March 30
and April 13.
Readers who are interested in viewing
the Web application may sign onto a sample of
the survey at http://survey.isr.umich.edu/sur-
vey/welcome.htm and use the Case ID of 201
and a password of ddl to access the survey.
The survey 's initial results are
published in today's Daily. For the entire
sample, the margin of error due to sampling is
+/- 4 percentage points, and it is larger for
Lookforfurther coverage of survey
results in the Monday and Tuesday editions of
The Michigan Daily.
We also would like to thank those
students who participated in the survey.
- The Michigan Dail4
Demographics of respondents to The Michigan Daily Student Survey
MEMBER OF GREEK SYSTEM
No Answer Other Don't Know
YEAR IN SCHOOL
Don't Know No Answer
Diversity "doesn't come come in black and
white or colors. I think diversity is having
people from all walks of life."
- Carri Glide
As asked on the survey, "When considering the majority of applicants
for admission to undergraduate programs, the University of Michigan
constructs a Selection Index. An a picant may receive points based upon
their persona characteristics."
We are interested in
how you feel about
various aspects of this
point system. For each of
these categories, do you
approve of using the
aspect in the admissions
0 20 40
60 80 100
0 20 40 60 80 100
0 20 40 60 80 100
Underrepresented race or ethnicity
0 20 40
60 80 100