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UM-Dearborn criticized for creating segregated online student 'cafes'

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

University of Michigan-Dearborn officials issued an apology Wednesday after creating segregated online student "cafes" for white people and those of color. 

The two virtual events were held Tuesday and were advertised as a "Non-POC Cafe"(People of Color) and another as a "BIOPC Cafe" (Black, Indigenous and People of Color). 

"The Non-POC (People Of Color) Cafe is a space for students that do not identify as persons of color to gather and to discuss their experience as students on campus and as non-POC in the world," according to an archived version of the announcement on the university's website. 

"Feel free to drop in and discuss your experiences as non-persons of color and hopefully brainstorm solutions to common issues within the non-POC community."

The move drew criticism on twitter. 

Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he understood the intention but that "it could have been done better, obviously."

Typically, spaces like this are created for students of color who have experienced racism to safely share their experiences, Ayoub said. And it's important that white students hear and learn from the experiences of students of color in these discussions, he said. 

"It seemed that opportunity was missed intentionally," said Ayoub, a UM Dearborn graduate. "We know this is a mistake but hope they move forward." 

UM-Dearborn issued a statement apologizing for referring to the online gatherings as "cafes", saying that they "were never intended to be exclusive or exclusionary for individuals of a certain race."

"The terms used to describe these virtual events and the descriptions themselves were not clear and not reflective of the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion," the statement reads.

"The original intent was to provide students from marginalized communities a space that allowed for them to exist freely without having to normalize their lives and experiences, while also providing students that do not identify as persons of color the opportunity to deepen their understanding of race and racism without harming or relying on students of color to educate them."

cmacdonald@detroitnews.com