UM: Blacks 6 times as likely as whites to feel bias
Ann Arbor — African-American students at the University of Michigan are six times more likely than white students to have felt discrimination in the previous year, the most dramatic finding of the university’s first survey on campus climate related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Released Thursday, the survey showed that black students are 519 percent more likely to report feeling discriminated against in the past 12 months when compared with white students.
Latino students are 132 percent more likely to report feeling discrimination and Asian American students are 86 percent more likely to report feeling discrimination than their white counterparts.
Meanwhile, 20 percent of students on UM’s Ann Arbor campus reported at least one discriminatory event in the past 12 months; the rate was 44 percent among underrepresented minority undergraduates and 35 percent among Asian American undergraduates.
Additionally, the survey found that women were more likely to feel discrimination, along with those not born in the U.S., those with a disability, and first-generation students, but less often than racial and ethnic minorities. LGBT students were 123 percent more likely to report discrimination than heterosexual students, according to the report.
While the survey showed that a majority of students felt that the campus is a positive place, historically underrepresented groups experience UM differently, said President Mark Schlissel.
“It is ... very clear that our campus is not a similarly positive place for all members of our community,” said Schlissel. “We are not yet where we want – or need – to be as we strive for a more diverse, more equitable and more inclusive academic community.
“It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the quality of the Michigan experience differs among people with differing individual and group identities,” he said. “In particular, women, minorities, people with disabilities, and people in LGBTQ+ communities shared that they experience the campus in less positive ways than others in the community.”
Robert Sellers, UM’s chief diversity officer, added that racism is thought of in terms of ignorance and often there is an assumption that discrimination only comes from those who are ignorant. But he said that ignorance, education level and intelligence are independent. Ignorance is a lack of knowlege and experience, but some people could have knowledge and experience in certain spaces and not others, he said.
“The assumption that the University of Michigan would look different in that context from the larger society is not something I would expect,” Sellers said. “The University of Michigan is a microcosm of the larger society .... Our goal is to try, to the best of our ability, to mitigate (these issues).”
The survey is part of the university’s five-year, $85 million plan under Schlissel to make the campus more inclusive after Michigan voters approved a 2006 initiative that banned affirmative action in public higher education admissions.
Beside students, the university also surveyed faculty and staff.
It comes as UM and college campuses are working to address diversity more broadly, and include students from various incomes, political beliefs, religions, abilities, gender identities and sexual orientations.
But it also comes as higher education institutions in Michigan and across the country are grappling with racist incidents directed at students of color.
UM’s experience has included racist flyers found on campus in September 2016 targeting the black community, racist and anti-Semitic emails, and the painting of anti-Latino slurs on an iconic rock near campus two months ago.
Meanwhile, at nearby Eastern Michigan University, officials recently charged a former student for three racist grafitti messages found on campus buildings and Wayne State University also has investigated racist grafitti on campus.
The report also is released as tensions have risen at UM and other campuses over appearances by speakers that some students accuse of promoting racism. Protesters disrupted a speech last month at UM by libertarian author Charles Murray, and the university received a request this week from white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to speak on campus.
Asked how UM balances discrimination felt by students and free speech on campus when considering speakers, Schlissel said those are some of the most difficult decisions the university has to make. Among the most important issues to consider is public safety, he added.
“Because of our position as a public university, we really don’t have the option of censoring speech, nor would we want that option,” Schlissel said. “But whatever we do, we have to be very respectful to the impact of speakers ... to students as we work on improving the campus climate.”
The university conducted the random sample survey in October 2016. It included 3,500 students of the university’s 47,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The response rate was 59 percent.