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Perceived Lack of Diversity at the University of Michigan and the Role of Interactional Diversity 

by Audrey Chitkara, Justin Hart, Esther Tay Belal Noureddine, Ryan Widner, Cachet Colvard, and Azad Barazi

Abstract: The University of Michigan administration places high emphasis on portraying the university as diverse. An entire section of the website is dedicated to diversity at the University, including quotes from President Mary Sue Coleman, including, “Diversity is integral to Michigan’s academic excellence” (University of Michigan). In 2010, during a fireside chat, The Michigan Daily quoted President Coleman as saying, “One of the reasons that I was attracted to come to Michigan in the first place was because of the commitment of the institution (to diversity)” (Swanson, 2010). However, without programs like Affirmative Action in place to regulate the composition of the student body, the administration lacks the ability to create a diverse campus. Moreover, while the administration advertises the University of Michigan as diverse and touts its many programs diversity-related programs, the term “diverse” is never fully explained. In one attempt to rationalize campus diversity, an “Open Doors” report, which found the University of Michigan to be 8th in the nation in terms of international enrollment, is highlighted (University of Michigan). Yet a large international student body does not necessarily mean these international students are ethnically or socioeconomically diverse. Students report exposure to racist and homophobic comments on campus, which culminated in October 2012 with the vandalism of the department of American culture, during which pictures of ethnic and sexual minorities were targeted. These actions may be a result of the disparity between the administration’s rhetoric and the reality of campus diversity. It appears that the administration has reported the University’s diversity in terms of the statistical and demographic diversity of the campus population, while ignoring interactional diversity, defined here as interaction beyond classmates with identities different from oneself.


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