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April 11, 2006 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-04-11

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The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, April 11, 2006 - 5






i A

T he University administration seeks to foster a diverse student body,
the educational benefits of diversity when defending its admissions p
the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003. Yet it is hardly a secret that many stud
ate mainly with those who share a common background, defined along ar
lines. Call it self-segregation or separatism; here, students share their per{
this common, but little discussed, aspect of campus life.







If you go to the Michigan Union Underground on puzzled astonishment, with the occasional glance of
a weekday somewhere between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. condescension. Although I usually laugh at upsetting
and look in the seating area directly opposite Wen- the comfort of those around me, it's to keep from being
dy's, you'll more than like- depressed. I find it pro-
ly encounter what I like to foundly sad that my friends
refer to as the black people and I elicit such a response.
section. It's not necessarily I've encountered very few
a monolithic mass of Black- n - nonblack people who can
ness, as there is usually a 'inS ire lookS relate to being perceived as
sprinkling of folks of all L A - a threat while simply walk-
ethnicities. But I've found f p UZ71 d ing to the bus stop.
that during my four years o p z eThere are a number of
here, there is a pretty good reasons why the Black Hole
chance that around lunch- aston ISh m ent, phenomenon exists. It's a
time I can run into a black relief for me to be in a set-
person I know in the MUG. i i h ehting where my guard can
Although the Union is be somewhat down. When
usually the most reliable I'm in the Black Hole, I no
place to find black people oCC aSional longer have to wonder if I'm
congregating, it's not the the first black man some-
only place. All it really I a ,c .ofone has encountered, and
takes is between two and iJI the pressure to represent
five relatively well-known the race well is diminished.
black students in a visible con d es enS 6When I'm in the Black
place to start what is known Hole, I'm comfortable with
as the Black Hole. It almost my intellectual aspirations.
never fails: A few black ' There aren't many other
students get together and - places where I can discuss
before anyone realizes - a the relevance of the Nation
few more people get sucked of Islam without having to
into the Black Hole. Within take a week and a half to
a short amount of time, there is a group of black people explain the love/hate relationship I have with the orga-
large enough to incur the most genuine looks of fear and nization - there's very little fear of misinterpreta-
bewilderment humanly possible. tion. I also relish the opportunity to be around other
My black male friends and I like to walk around cam- intelligent black people. Since this is the University of
pus and test people's reactions to us. We don't try to Michigan, a vast majority of us aspire to heighten our
bother people; we just like to observe people observ- consciousness.
ing us. Sometimes we'll be in suits and ties; other times Sadly, that may not be the case for other parts of the
jeans, do-rags and Timberlands. Sometimes we'll walk world. The fatalist in me fears that I'll never be around
into the UgLi purposefully silent; other times we'll be such a concentration of scholastically inclined black
loud and unfiltered. people ever again. Therefore, I'm going to soak up the

C oming to this University, I had no real expectations
about what was soon to occur.
As an incoming freshman during the 2003
winter semester, a scant two-day orientation held on
a desolate campus left me with little knowledge about
any available resources. With barely a handful of peo-
ple from my graduating class attending the University,
there was no one I could rely upon. This would begin
the adventure of finding out for myself what the Univer-
sity had to offer.
The next year I would continue the trend of doing
my own thing, getting involved in intramural sports,
a part-time job and other activities. I was just a run-
of-the-mill student trying to coast through school and
mind my own business. I never really saw myself as
segregated and never put much though into it, though
you could tell there were divisions on campus with a
simple glance around any cafeteria.
As a multi-ethnic individual of Mexican and Euro-
pean ancestry, it wasn't until junior year that I decided
to reach out to the relatively small Latino community
here. Though having a light complexion, light eyes and
a meager ability to speak Spanish might deter some
people, I wouldn't let it detract from my own heritage.
Latinos are perhaps one of the most diverse groups
in the world, and I felt very welcomed to join the com-
munity. More than a year and a half later, I've met and

befriended some remarkable people and experienced
the University in a very unique manner.
I may spend most of my free time hanging out with
Latinos on campus, but I've never seen it as self-segre-
gation. There are probably relatively few people who
intentionally segregate themselves by whatever divi-
sions they see fit; I would say the vast majority of stu-
dents are simply grouped with whom they feel most
comfortable. In my first two years, I was content being
outside of the Latino community, but I would argue that
we've been socialized to almost need to identify with
other people.
Taking that step into the community made me feel at
home, reminding me of the experiences I've had with
my own family. These common backgrounds and life-
styles complement each other and can naturally place
people at ease with one another.
The problem arises when we let group differences
influence our perceptions and attitudes toward each other.
Often, dissimilarities will be. exaggerated to the point that
people sometimes fail to see other mutual bonds.
I've always tried to be open to all walks of life and
in my experience, despite myriad distinctions, people
ultimately have more in common with one another
than they realize. Perhaps the easiest step in creating a
friendlier, understanding and truly diverse campus is as
simple as putting out your hand and saying, "Hello."


No matter what the situation, we inspire looks of
never thought I could be a separatist. I hated
the idea of having friends of any one anything.
IGrowing up outside New York City, where
no identity could claim a majority, I thought my
friends would always be "diverse," as college
administrators like to say.
I was wrong.
Most of my friends come from such different
backgrounds that it would be silly to list them so
mechanically. But upon closer inspection, I realize
something: A good number of my closest friends
are just like me - black and gay.
How did this happen? How did my cherished
cultural pluralism betray me so?
No idea. Perhaps my place in the (white) gay com-
munity was too tenuous. Perhaps the lack of black
people in my Jersey town led me to seek them out.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But these arguments are
too easy. I love my friends for who they are, not for
their identities. For all my soul-searching, I have
no answers. Perhaps I never will.
What bothers me is this: I don't think of myself
in terms of "identity." Individuals are individuals,
each too distinctive and complex to be reduced to
a few words. For this reason, it's difficult to group

atmosphere as long as I can.

hate separatism!
Earlier this term I went to the Black State
of the Union,sand was disheartened to see that
practically the entire audience was black. Don't
other people on campus care about issues relevant
to the black community?
Or - what's the point if you're preaching to
the choir?
It is not a secret that most people are somewhat
uninterested in issues not directly productive
for their own communities. Why do I care about
queers if I'm not queer? I'm not Jewish - why go
to Hillel?
Nobody cares.
What people care about is sex and dating. Every-
body wants to get laid. Perhaps, then, the best way
to penetrate racial separatism is through dialogue
that mixes sex and dating. After all, when you
date someone you get to know them on a personal,
and not quite so superficial, level.
Monoracial dating can lead to separatism. Many
people actually believe that one ought to only date
within one's own race. And others claim to not
be attracted to X race. How is it possible to be
not attracted to tens of millions of people? But

Picture this. Feeling adventurous, you decide
to attend college in Xanadu, a country thousands
of miles away from the United States. You've never
been to Xanadu before and do not know anyone there at
all. Most of the people in Xanadu do not share your eth-
nicity. They also have a
completely different cul-
ture, lifestyle and set of
social norms that you are
not used to and know little
about. They speak English, y
but with a unique accent6
that can immediately be Inte r nal
differentiated from yours.
You don't understand any ud
of their slang or common
phrases either.
Sound intimidating? little ne
Well, there's a silver lin-
ing. There are going to be
a hundred other Americans step ou
who will also be attending s e
the college, along with their their cC
own American Students'
Association. You will even
be attending orientation zo ne a r
with these guys as soon as
you set foot on campus. frie
If you had to make a
guess, who do you think
your best friends in college loC al st
will be?
The scenario above is
exactly what most interna-
tional students, including
myself, experience when
they leave their countries and come to Ann Arbor. It is
thus hardly surprising that despite making up an extremely
small portion of the campus body (around 4 percent), the
international student community is very self-segregated.
One of the biggest reasons for this, which the admin-
istration can possibly remedy, is the international student
orientation. Every year toward the end of August or the
beginning of September, the University holds an orien-


need to step outside of their
comfort zone and make
friends with local students.
Eventually, the international
student body becomes a very
close, tight-knit - and self-
segregated - community.
ion al To be fair, there are other
reasons too that are beyond
the administration's control.
For people who have lived
in a country where virtu-
e d to ally everyone is of the same
ethnicity as themselves,
coming to the United States
tside of and finding themselves in
the minority will be a big
fo tculture shock. Not being
familiar with this country's
culture, lifestyle and social
d m a ke norms is also very intimi-
dating. The most natural and
w i" instinctive response to these
stresses is to seek out others
whom you can identify with
UJd and to spend most of your
time with them. Another
major problem for many is
the language barrier. A sig-
nificant portion of the inter-
national community is not
very comfortable speaking English. Even among those
who are, most would still prefer to speak in their native
language. This also leads to self-segregation within the
international student community.
There are no easy solutions to the problem of self-seg-
regation. I've already given one suggestion, but there is
only so much that the University administration can do.
To truly bring about change, international students should
etn nnei ollfl1 their 1, ,.nnmfn r.t 'nn andflapt to a lrr. a, aor

The presence of international student organizations
also allows people to make all the social connections they
need with others from their own country. Hence, as the
majority of the student body starts moving onto campus
and classes resume, many international students see little

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