Politics & Policy

Diversity’s Division

Reality at Michigan.

Justice Antonin Scalia: Does Michigan have…a minority dorm?

University of Michigan’s Lawyer John Payton: No. The answer is no.

My instinct was to stand up and shout, “He’s lying! There is a minority dorm! He is a dirty liar!” However, having spent two frigid days sleeping on the steps of the Supreme Court to get into the courtroom for the oral arguments, I wasn’t about to risk getting tossed out. I held my tongue, but couldn’t control my disgust. How could the University of Michigan lie to the highest court in the land? I hoped that the justices would see through Michigan’s disingenuous facade, but Monday my worst fears proved true.

I learned a lot of things at the University of Michigan (I graduated in April) and one of them was that Michigan’s idea of diversity amounts to little more than an applicant’s skin color. Patricia Gurin, Michigan’s diversity guru and expert witness, insists on referring to minority students as “diverse peers.” I also learned that Ann Arbor is not an idyllic racial utopia, despite how Michigan’s lawyers portrayed it to the Court. The campus is rife with racial division, resentment, and segregation — much of it encouraged and underwritten by the school administration. In other words, the Supreme Court was duped.

And, despite what Payton told the Court, there is a minority dorm at the University of Michigan. Tucked away on North Campus, Bursley and Baits Halls have become the unofficial minority refuge. Architecturally, they resemble something out of an Eastern bloc country circa 1950. Socially they resemble an Alabama lunch counter of the same era. The last thing they resemble is an “incredibly vibrant and complex campus that has diversity in every conceivable way,” as Payton described the campus. But Bursley and Baits are only two incarnations of Michigan’s many failures in fostering diversity.

From application to graduation, Michigan segregates students and stigmatizes minorities. Many minority students are invited to attend the “Summer Bridge” program, which aims to prepare minorities for the rigor of a highly competitive institution. During their freshmen year, they can enroll in the Comprehensive Studies Programs, which offers smaller class sizes, free tutoring, career planning, and mentorship programs for no additional cost. By their sophomore year, many minority students choose to move to Bursley or Baits, and many become active in one of over 90 minority student organizations. During their junior year when most students choose their major, many opt for programs like women’s or African-American studies. And finally, during their senior year, amidst the literal pomp and circumstance of graduation, the Office of Multicultural Academic Initiatives hosts a separate-but-equal African-American graduation ceremony.

Although these programs all fall under the rubric of “diversity,” all they do is divide students. The fact that minority students still feel the need to have a separate graduation ceremony at all is evidence of the university’s ultimate failure. After four years of intense “diversity,” minority students still don’t feel comfortable graduating as a class, rather than as a “critical mass,” to borrow Justice O’Connor’s terminology.

Michigan’s attempts to foster diversity are artificial, manufactured, and inauthentic. In one memorable instance, an organization calling itself “Dialogues on Diversity” lured students to an event with the promise of free pizza. (The way to a college student’s mind is through his stomach). My interests — and taste buds — perked, so I showed up with a few friends and was told to sit at a table with other students of conspicuously different races. Then, after a brief introduction, they asked us to “Talk about a time when you were discriminated against.” The “Dialogues of Diversity” turned out to be a series of monologues. As we went around the table, they each took a turn lecturing me, the white guy.

Justice O’Connor wrote that diversity promotes “‘cross-racial understanding,’ helps to break down racial stereotypes, and ‘enables [students] to better understand persons of different races.’” She seems to assume that Michigan is an oasis of racial harmony and understanding and that racial preferences are the only way to achieve a diverse student body.

Diversity doesn’t have to feel fabricated. Real diversity, not Michigan’s race-obsessed version, is natural and vibrant. And while diversity can be cultivated through interaction and understanding, it cannot be created by a point system, a board of admissions councilors, or activist judges.

O’Connor is wrong. I know she’s wrong because I’ve been there.

James Justin Wilson is an NR intern and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan.

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