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February 05, 2014 - Image 12

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-02-05

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I B Wedesay Fbrar 5 204 / -heStte en

Wensdy ebur 5 01 heSaemn

WHA T

a BLACK A THE UNIVERSITY?

B Y W I L L

G R E E N B E R G

hen the
#BBUM cam -
paign gar-
nered national
attention in
November,
University administrators and stu -
dents alike were caught off-guard
by the raw emotion captured in 140
characters. And despite thousands of
tweets, there isn't one single answer
to the question 'what is being Black
at the University of Michigan?'
Black, brown, Afroamerican or
African-American - whatever the
name- it's a group that shares a trait
which has enormous implications
for their social and academic experi -
ences: their race. And while college
is a time of learning for all students,
both in and outside the classroom,
many Black students at the Universi -
ty have an extra layer to their experi -
ence: a specific racial consciousness
that hangs over the community.
A Cold Racial Climate and the
Never Ending Question
"Being Black at the University of
Michigan is like an extra job," said
Chris James, an LSA Junior from
Flint, Mich.
James is a Black man on a campus
of mostly white students. Accord -
ing to the most recent enrollment
data, the University's undergradu -
ate population is 4.65 percent Black
and 72.6 percent white - a disparity
that has grown since the passage of a
ban on affirmative action policies in
2006. Asa member of a racial minor -
ity, James said he feels the isolation
of being outnumbered. He feels an
additional set of burdens unique to
the Black community. Others feel
the same.
"I never saw any racism or any -
thing like that until I gotto Michigan
and then I was like, 'Wow, this actu -
ally happens,'" said LSA and Music,
Theatre & Dance sophomore Nadia
Weeks.
Growing up, Weeks said she was
used to being outnumbered in her
school, having been one of the few
Black students in her class until high
school. However, only when she
began her time at the University did
she start to see how her race defined
her to others.

Weeks is one of two Black students
on her dance team. As a dance major,
Weeks spends the majority of her
time within the dance school with
a group of about a dozen other stu-
dents.
During one dance rehearsal,
Weeks was practicing with her team
when another girl's foot became
lodged in Weeks' hair extensions
as the two spun by each other.
When the other dancer pulled her
foot away, a portion of both Weeks'
extensions and her natural hair went
with it. When the rest of the group
saw what had happened, they burst
into laughter. No one asked if Weeks
was all right.
"The fact that I was wearing
extensions - I don't know, it's just
something they weren't used to,"
Weeks said. 'They were laughing
at me and I was like, 'Wait, I actu -
ally could have gotten hurt - no one

hair much before and that except for
maybe the one other Black student on
the team, no one knew how to react.
For the first part of the year,
Weeks said she tried to avoid the
other Black student in the class, stay -
ing as far away from her as possible
so her professors wouldn't mix them
up. Despite her efforts, Weeks said
she frequently was confused for the
other girl.
"This girl looks nothing like me.
I wear braids; she has long, straight
hair; my complexion is much darker
than hers; our structure is way dif -
ferent; our personalities are dif -
ferent; so how could you always be
calling me her name?"
Weeks' experience on the dance
team is emblematic of the many chal -
lenges Black students at the Univer -
sity face in clashing cultures with
students who are not of the same
background. These exchanges often

or prejudice, and many times Black
students attribute these incidents
to misinformation or lack of under -
standing.
Still, many Black students are left
wondering if race was an influencing
factor in these encounters.
Engineering senior Frankie Reed
is the president of the University's
National Society of Black Engineers
(NSBE). However, Reed said many
of his peers assume he is an athlete
rather than a scholar.
"1 get it so much that I just tell
them, 'No, I'm an electrical engi -
neer,'and I guess that kind of off-sets
that thought like, 'Oh, wow, real -
ly?'" he said. "It just happens
so much that I handle it
and get through it."
Like many other
Black students,
Reed has expe-
rienced other

street. At times, it is difficult to wear
a hoodie without feeling like he's
being viewed as a threat.
For each crime alert that includes
a Black male as suspect, Reed
explained that essentially any Black
male on campus could be target-
ed. When campus crime alerts are
released with a Black male described
as a suspect, there is an inherent
anxiety with reading "afro or bald,"
in the criminal description, he said.
"I got pulled aside by DPS inside
the cafeteria and they said, 'You fit
the description of blah, blah, blah,
where were you at
such and such time,'
and I had to explain
to them,'I was in the
cafeteria the whole
time,'" he said.
As a part of the
minority, many

ceived stereotypes or give further
reason for discrimination.
"When was the last time you were
in a class and someone said, 'Why do
white people do this?'" he asked. "It's
pressure to make sure you're articu -
late when you speak so you sound
intelligent and people don't think
you're an idiot."
These encounters weigh heavily
on many Black students. What's even
more frustrating for the Black com -
munity is that these incidents are not
always explicitly racist or intolerant.
Thus, for many students, the never
ending question remains: "Would it
be different if I wasn't Black?"
Bait and switch
The first sentence of the 'Prospec -
tive Student' section on the Uni -
versity's main website reads:
"Welcome to an amazing
place filled with unparalleled
opportunities, interesting and
engaged minds, and a richly
diverse campus community."
On the site, the University
highlights the wide variety of
students "from 50 states, 127
countries - nearly 1,500 interna -
tional students - a campus com-
prised of multiple races, cultures,
languages, religions, and perspec -
tives, where intellectual and cultural
interaction happen."
Additionally, the photographs
on the page feature many students
of color, a representation many see
as disproportionate to the student
body's actual demographics. Many
Black students who are now at the
University said when they saw these
pictures and read these descriptions,
they were under the impression that
the school was a melting pot of cul -
tures, a comfortable, inclusive racial
environment.
This is not the case.
"When I chose the college I was
thinking, 'Oh, there's going to be
so much diversity, there are people
from all around the world,' and when
I got here it was something that
was completely different," said LSA
freshman Dezha Dial.
Dial said she has already seen
the interracial tension that comes
with being a Black student. She's
been called the n-word. She had a

white roommate who tr
dorm rooms because, from
understood, she took iss
with a Black woman. Dial
only place she trulyfeels sa
campus is alone in her
room.
"I don't feel like I
should hate it here. I
chose this school for a
reason. I came here to
get an education but I
also came here for an
amazing experience,"
Dial said. "College is
supposed to shape you
educationally but also
socially and there is
something socially that
is lacking here."
The problems persist
across campus and into
the city of Ann Arbor
itself.
Following a football-
Saturday this past fall,
a group of high school
students was
on a scaven-
ger hunt in
Ann Arbor.
The group
was from
the Neu-
tral Zone's
Students
Educating
Each other about
Diversity (S.E.E.D.)
program - a student grot
ed to discussing and lead
sity education workshops.
The group was walkinc
the crowded streets as1
exiting the stadium ant
downtown. At the corne
Street and East Liberty S
high school students cam
small group of University
One of them held up a bl
of a Black woman, which I
had brought along as his'
men were making obsce
gestures toward the doll,
and confusing the S.E.E
members.
The S.E.E.D. group ap
the University students a
them why they had the dol
responded with jokes a
ter. Why the rushers had t

ansferred all was not made apparent, but the he knows how easy it can be to dis - school is, and has watched as the
what Dial impact on the S.E.E.D. group was miss race, and that often many white Black community has been forced ,
sue living painful. students find ways to overlook their into itself, with its members having
said the "My whole group just stopped and own impact. nowhere else to go.
fe now on we got closer ... when I saw (them), 'This gives another kind of play - "I feel like most of the times you
are pushed
away, pushed
toward each
other and you
sort of cling
to each other
as sort of a
way of sur-
vival, a way of
showing soli-,...
darity," Col -
tier said.
Black stu -
dents are
frequently
made to feel
like outsiders
both inside
and outside
of the class-
room. During
group work,
Black Stu --...a
dents often
face difficulty
having their
ideas taken
ALLISON FARRAND Daily seriously by
Kinesiology sophomore Capri'Nara Kendall ina protest organized by the Black Student Union in front of Hill Auditorium on Janu their peers.
ary 20th.
Classmates
often assume
there was a physical, ing card like, 'I go to a diverse Uni - Black students were admitted to
'Really? Is this really versity, therefore I cannot possibly the University through affirmative
happening right now? Am be racist.'ButI think that it's away to action initiatives, despite the fact
up dedicat- I seeing what I'm seeing?" said Leo deflect and a way to not actually deal that such programs were banned by
ling diver - Thornton, a member of the S.E.E.D. with these things that are inherently a popular statewide referendum in
group. inside of us because we were brought 2006.
g through S.E.E.D. Leadership Coordinator up," Frey said. "I've seen that and Collier noted that on a social level,
fans were Danny Brown, an alumnus of the experienced that a lot on U of M's it is very disheartening to be a Black
d heading University, said many of the students campus." student at the University. There are
r of State were overcome by the incident, with often smallervenues for social events
treet, the some breaking into tears. Brown said Black or Blue than other students get to use, Black
ie across a that the significance of the blowup studentsareusuallyoutnumbered on
students. doll was likely overlooked by the At a University where Blacks com - game day or other major University
ow-up doll young men, who didn't have to think prise 4.65 percent of the undergrad - events, and rarely feel welcomed or
he said he about the racial intent and power uate population, interacting with comfortable going to fraternity par -
date." The they were carrying. those outside of one's demographic ties.
ne, sexual "They're giving this message can be difficult. Collier told a story he had heard
shocking that's saying: 'Women of color, you "It's a salad bowl," said LSA senior from a staff member of the football
.D group are not people.You're objects and the Tyrell Collier. "It's not a melting team talking to a player after a big
fact that we're dehumanizing you is pot." win:
proached not only not serious, not only not a Collier is the speaker of the Black "She asked him, 'Did you go out
nd asked concern to us, but it's funny,'" he said. Student Union and president of and party after the game?' And he
1. The men William Frey, another S.E.E.D. EnspiRED, a fashion organization was like, 'No!' She said, 'Why?' and
nd laugh - staff member and University gradu - on campus. As a senior, Collier said he said, 'Because there's no place for
he doll at ate student, said that as a white male, he has seen how racially divided the Black people to go.' She said, 'You

Black
Aq''students
say they feel a
responsibility to serve
as a representative for
the larger Black com -
munity. This occurs
both within the class -
room, with professors
sometimes tokeniz -
ing students to speak
for an entire race, and
outside the classroom,
with Black students
feeling scrutinized by
their peers, including
students that have no
experience with Black
culture or Black people
at all.
ALLISON FARRAND/ Daily Jeremy Tyler, a fifth-
Students participate ina protest organized by the Black Student Union in front of Hill Auditoriumon on January 20th. year senior and member
of the cheerleading team,
wants their hair pulled out.'" involve an awkward question, quick racially charged incidents. He said he feels like he can't make any
Weeks said she doubted most of assumption or off-color statement. described how frightened pedes - mistakes in school. He doesn't want
her team had been exposed to Black Rarely are the cases of overt racism trians sometimes avoid him on the to reinforce or confirm any precon -

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