Michigan: The Internal Contradictions Of “Diversity”

In a comment on this post below, Chetly Zarko, one of the leaders of the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and a frequent commenter here, points to this fascinating article in the Michigan Daily. Drop whatever you’re doing and go read it now (because if you don’t I’ll have to quote the whole thing, and that’s not cool).

The University of Michigan believes (and in this belief it is typical, not unique) that “diversity” is so important that those it deems “underrepresented minorities” are judged by different admissions standards (but only admissions?) from whites and minorities who are not regarded as “underrepresented,” such as Asians and others.

The predictable, inevitable, and indeed intended effect of this double standard is that a significant number of minorities are admitted — and a significant number of whites, Asians, and others are not admitted — because of their race or ethnicity. Because many defenders of racial preference attempt to deny or evade this fundamental fact, let me restate it: if all applicants to selective schools with preference policies were judged by the same standard, many minority applicants who are now admitted under the reign of “diversity” would not be, and many white and non-preferred minority applicants who are now rejected would be admitted. Reasonable people can disagree over whether or not this is a Good Thing, but not over whether or not it is true.

But once admitted, a number of “diversity” dilemmas raise their ugly heads. If colorblind admissions is discriminatory, why not colorblind grading? What’s the point of grading on a colorblind, neutral scale students who were not admitted under the same standard? Wouldn’t (doesn’t?) colorblind grading result in a “disproportionate” number of preferentially admitted students flunking out?

Moving on, since “diversity” — being exposed to the “difference” of others — is the stated rationale of racially preferential admissions, shouldn’t there be a ceiling on the number of black students allowed into any particular class? And shouldn’t white students be assigned to at least a minimum number of classes containing at least a minimum number of blacks? I realize this smacks of racial assignments, but then the Michigans have already demonstrated that they have no principled objection to admitting and rejecting students on the basis of race, so why not assigning?

And then there’s the matter of housing, the cause of the current “diversity”-based discomfort at Michigan. It seems that the black students there have a tendency to self-segregate, thus depriving their peers of the advantages — no, the absolute necessity, to listen to Michigan administrators — of being exposed to them. I mean, how selfish can you get, choosing to live among your friends rather than with people who need to be exposed to you? Since Michigan has justified lowering its standards to admit some minorities instead of the non-minorities who would otherwise have been admitted based on the advantages to others the preferentially admitted will provide, shouldn’t it assign those students to dorms where they will do the most good?

The mind of Michigan is divided by and troubled over this issue. On one hand, as the Michigan Daily reports in the article linked above,

Patricia Pacania, director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, said she thinks the University still does not have a large enough population of minority students to achieve a critical mass. Pacania said this creates a need for minority students to self-segregate in residence halls and said she thinks the University should allow this clustering to happen. “To just sprinkle students in dorms, knowing that we have not achieved that critical mass … I don’t think that that’s effective,” she said….

Pacania said she worries that spreading minority students throughout all the dorms, rather than allowing them to form communities, would “add another set of stress upon students of color.”

“I think to primarily look to students of color to say ‘educate me’ is an unfair burden, and I don’t think that’s something we as a University should ask of students,” she said. “And students of color also need opportunities to have a living space where they don’t feel like they always have to educate other people or don’t have to always justify themselves or explain themselves.”

But on the other…

University President Mary Sue Coleman said that while she understands the desire of minority students to live together, she believes a more diverse living experience is desirable.

“I would think that one of the huge values of being in a University setting is being able to get acquainted with people from a different background or different race, and I encourage students to really pursue that. I think it’s important. It’s one of the great things we offer at the University of Michigan,” she said. “I would hope that we can continue to find ways to get to people to mix themselves up.”

Ah, there’s the rub. Coleman must be a residual believer in individual choice, for what she wants to do is “find ways to get people to mix themselves up.” This is necessary, for as “housing spokesman Alan Levy” explains,

the process of housing application and assignment is done without racial information, meaning the uneven distribution of minorities in the dorms is not a product of the housing assignment process.

If Coleman really believed what she says in justifying preferential admissions, she’d bite the bullet and mix the students up herself.


Chetly Zarko points to the evasive and disingenuous answers regarding residential segregation in the dormitorites Michigan attorney John Payton gave to Justice Scalia during the oral argument in Gratz.

Say What? (14)

  1. mikem March 24, 2005 at 11:28 pm | | Reply

    Just a warning. You might not want to bother submitting a comment (at the end of each article) to MichiganDaily. I have twice submitted comments and upon checking back days later, I noticed that there were no comments posted anywhere, on any article, despite their invitation to do so.

    They have a lazy crew there.

  2. Chetly Zarko March 25, 2005 at 2:22 am | | Reply

    In fairness, they are student reporters. On the other hand, I’ve twice been “quoted” on stories as “from a previous interview with the Daily,” which is lazy and doesn’t give me a chance to respond directly to the nuance of the newer articles.

    Some of the reporters are better than others though, and they typically work better after you’ve had a few conversations.

    The posting system is probably a technical difficulty. Its been over a year since I’ve used it, but I remember it was very finnicky. Try reposting.

  3. mikem March 25, 2005 at 3:37 am | | Reply

    Thanks, Chetly, but as I said I could not find any comments at all, at any article, so I doubt it was a glitch. I have seen the same type comment system used elsewhere and it seems to come along with the format (vnews?) that many student newspapers use.

    I understand that these are students, but it would not take a great effort to simply remove the comments invitation so that people do not take the time to comment, respond to the email prompt, and then check back for replies, all for a newspaper that has no intention of displaying comments anyway. I don’t begrudge the students being too busy to approve the comments so that they will be displayed, but I do think it is utterly irresponsible for budding journalists to be so uncaring of their readers that they will not even remove an invitation that they will not honor.

    I’m sorry if I seem overly upset, but I assume what happens to me happens to hundreds of other readers. On the other hand, it would only take one effort on the part of one student journalist to avoid all that wasted effort (and aggravation) by disabling the comment function.

  4. Chetly Zarko March 25, 2005 at 4:31 am | | Reply

    There are a few articles with comments, but my experience is that the U-M community doesn’t use the feature much. Perhaps only 10% of articles ever receive a response, and then they cluster into the articles that generate local interest for whatever reason.

    As to why your comment hasn’t posted, I can’t figure it out. Send a note (outside the system) to the editor with your complaint – your point is reasonable, and if there is a problem with their system, I can’t imagine they’d not correct it.

  5. actus March 25, 2005 at 10:45 am | | Reply

    “Chetly Zarko points to the evasive and disingenuous answers regarding residential segregation in the dormitorites”

    did they go along the lines of differentiating classrooms from dorms? I think its quite normal that we treat those differently.

  6. Chetly Zarko March 25, 2005 at 4:31 pm | | Reply

    The University’s scientific research offered in Gratz v. Bollinger by Professor Gurin suggests that for “diversity to work”, it has to be everywhere. Admissions diversity doesn’t work, according to U-M’s own research, in isolation.

    So, Actus, to be consistent with itself, even though all of this “science” was bunk, U-M faces this internal dilemma.

    I don’t think we should be using race as a criteria to micro-manage dorms either, but I don’t think its “normal” to treat dorms “differently”. I wouldn’t be using race as a preferential tool in admissions or dorms.

  7. actus March 25, 2005 at 4:36 pm | | Reply

    “I don’t think we should be using race as a criteria to micro-manage dorms either, but I don’t think its “normal” to treat dorms “differently”.”

    Sure it is. In dorms we allow parties. we allow people to be loud. We might even allow alcohol and sex and hooking up and lots of personal activities. But not in the classroom.

  8. Chetly Zarko March 25, 2005 at 8:10 pm | | Reply

    I don’t know any dorms that allow alcohol (even for over 21 residents), or people to be “loud.” “Parties” is a matter of definition. As to sex, I don’t know if dorms have a specific policy. I don’t know what that has to do with the issue of “diversity” though, or the relationship between dorms and classrooms. What’s your point?

  9. actus March 25, 2005 at 9:40 pm | | Reply

    “I don’t know what that has to do with the issue of “diversity” though, or the relationship between dorms and classrooms. What’s your point?”

    My point is that when the justification is the need for a diverse educational environment, I can see the university treating dorms and housing different than they do the classroom. Housing is the private space were people live and retire to. Classes are the public spaces they go to engage in education.

    Sorry they didn’t allow — even if not officially — parties and booze in your dorms. The kind that woul definatelly get shut down in a classroom at least.

  10. Chetly Zarko March 26, 2005 at 1:18 am | | Reply

    I don’t know of any dorms from any respectable university that allows alcohol or parties.

    Most major universities don’t treat “dorm” space as “private” in the sense that I think you mean. There are some “privacy protections” extended, but like a landlord-tenant situation, the university owns the space. My experience, even 15 years ago, was that the educational mission and indocrtination of the university extended into the dorms – from posters and programs, to resident assistants. U-M requires all freshman to live in a dorm – because they believe the dorm is part of the educational experience. Sophomores can choose to move out into the private market, or choose to be in a lottery for open dorm spaces (this partial lottery alone causes clustering because the geographically “good” dorms get scooped up by sophomores, and freshman have to walk slightly further or get put in tighter accomodations).

  11. actus March 26, 2005 at 12:32 pm | | Reply

    “Most major universities don’t treat “dorm” space as “private” in the sense that I think you mean.”

    The sense that i think it means is that is where people live, and where people have higher expectations than in the classroom.

  12. Michelle Dulak Thomson March 26, 2005 at 1:03 pm | | Reply

    I have to say that I think this is a little overblown. Is the difference between one set of dorms being “11% black” and others “8 or 9% black” really enough “clustering” to generate this much concern? Especially as it seems that the actual campus assignment is race-blind, only taking into account student requests. That’s just how they worked it at UC/Berkeley when I was there, and I don’t remember significant racial clustering, though there was an all-female dorm (I moved into it after freshman year, not to stay away from men but to get a single room — they were very scarce elsewhere, and mostly reserved for R.A.s) and an all-male one.

    The intra-campus clustering via “Learning Communities” is more worrisome, I suppose, but not by much. Really, how important is all this? In my experience, college students who want to socialize with one another are reasonably capable of doing so even if they don’t live in the same building. I don’t know how big the UMich campus is; I think at UCB you could get between the two farthest-flung dorms in 30 minutes or so on foot, and most were much closer than that. The furthest apart were Stern Hall (the all-girls one) and Dwight-Derby — oh, sorry, I beg its pardon, Clark Kerr Campus. (The latter was a former school for the blind, closed because it was insufficiently earthquake-safe for blind students, but evidently OK for us. Very nice, actually, in a California Mission architecture sort of way.) Now the max. distance is a little more than that, because the massive Foothill dorm was built further up the hill from Stern after my time.

    Hmmm . . . just looked up the UCB student housing page at


    and whaddaya know: ethnic “theme programs.” African American, Asian Pacific American, “Casa Magdalena Mora” (go on, take a guess), LGBT, “Women in Science and Engineering” (that one I think was already around when I was there in the mid-80s, because I was a “woman in science and engineering” and I remember declining it), and “Global Environment.” OK, now this I don’t like. But it doesn’t look from the article like UMich has anything quite like that.

  13. Chetly Zarko March 26, 2005 at 7:17 pm | | Reply

    Michelle, your right. If the data in the article – 8% v. 11% – is correct, it is way overblown.

    However, 1) the debate is internal to U-M – its interesting to watch them deal with their internal contradictions and bean counters 2) the number I have heard is that one of the dorms is over 30% black, and some of the other ones as little as 2-3%. I heard these numbers just after the Supreme Court decision, but never pursued it because I was fighting several other battles to get other U-M data, and another battle wouldn’t have been practical. Its not unimaginable to me that the “data” appearing the Daily story was “massaged,” or “carefully selected” to compare two of the dozen dorms that were closest to the median – however, in fairness, I have nothing other than a single unconfirmed source on this one.

  14. […] and I don’t think that’s something we as a University should ask of its students” (quoted in Michigan: The Internal Contradictions Of “Diversity”). She favored allowing blacks to self-segregate in residence halls rather than “to just […]

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