Univ. of Michigan Diversity Discussed
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) _ Self-described introvert Manuel Lopez says he found his niche at the University of Michigan by enrolling in an educational and residential program that celebrates diversity and public service.
``I was a very shy kid entering college, but I just dived right into it,″ said Lopez, of North Brunswick, N.J. ``I thought it would make my transition to college a lot easier and it did just that.″
Students and program organizers call the four-year-old Michigan Community Scholars Program a prime example of how the university’s affirmative action and diversity policies pay dividends.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments April 1 on a lawsuit filed by three white students opposed to the university’s enrollment policy, which awards admissions bonus points to minorities. The white students were denied admission at Michigan and maintain the university’s policies amount to unconstitutional racial discrimination.
The university defends its policies as necessary to promote campus diversity and affirmative action.
A high court decision is expected this summer and the outcome clouds the future of programs such as Michigan Community Scholars.
``The court’s decision has the potential to affect much more than just admissions,″ said university spokeswoman Julie Peterson. ``The real answer is we just don’t know, because we don’t know what the court’s decision is going to look like.″
About 60 percent of the Michigan Community Scholars Program’s 150 students are minorities or international students, and the mix fosters understanding and personal growth as they live together, study, mingle and volunteer, said David Schoem, a faculty director and veteran professor.
``Lots of students are still living in segregated communities,″ Schoem said. ``We try to show it can be comfortable to be with people of other races, other countries.″
Michigan Community Scholars tries to break down some of the barriers on a campus that many students say is increasingly polarized by debate over the university’s race-conscious admissions policies.
``Outside of this dorm, the campus is pretty much divided,″ said Lopez, who is Puerto Rican. ``You see the white kids hang with the white kids, the Hispanic kids with the Hispanics and if I hadn’t joined, I’d probably be just like them.″
Schoem said the students embrace the program.
``They really want the conversation. They’re hanging out on the floor together. It takes away fears, takes away uncertainty,″ Schoem said.
Students also are required to volunteer for community service projects, which Schoem said fosters civic pride.
Lopez said he’s raised money for AIDS and muscular dystrophy research and worked with Habitat for Humanity. Others head to classrooms such as Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor, where Michigan Community Scholars students assist some 70 children with homework in an after school drop-in program.
``They’re really encouraging the kids, being role models″ said Vickie Malcolm, Forsythe community education coordinator. ``Michigan Community Scholars is our main source for tutors.″
Schoem said there are plans to study the program’s long-term effects as students graduate and move into the business world.
In addition to Michigan Community Scholars, the university offers classes for prospective residence hall advisers designed to teach techniques for working with a diverse array of residents.
The idea is to develop resident advisers who can communicate well with all students and encourage them to stay in racially and socially mixed dormitories instead of moving into highly segregated fraternity or sorority houses.
``When I see people stay in the residence hall for a year and come back, they’re more open to diversity, they become better socialized,″ said Jim Sherman, a resident adviser from Battle Creek.
``I challenge students to slip out of their comfort zone,″ added Donney Moroney, who is Hispanic and who coordinates the multiethnic student affairs office. ``Most students who come here come from a very segregated environment. It’s a culture shock to come here.″
Not everyone buys into the program. Some students say it’s political correctness run amok.
``I have a hall full of conservative men,″ said Jamie Jameson, a white female residence hall adviser from Corunna, near Flint. ``It’s difficult at times because they make fun of it, but I learn from them, too.″
Tait Chamberlain, a white sophomore who describes himself as a conservative Christian, questions whether the tolerance touted by the residence hall program extends to everybody. He said his opinions on reproductive rights, religion and politics differ dramatically from those held by most who live in his hall.
``They want to be as absolutely politically correct as they can,″ said Chamberlain, of the Grand Rapids suburb of Kentwood. ``On a campus like this, diversity reigns supreme. What has surprised me is the lack of understanding for my views.″
On the Net:
Michigan Community Scholars Program: http://www.lsa.umich.edu/mcs