Column: Removing the blindfolds

By Matt Simmons

Self-segregation on campus is perceived as a huge problem. Many students believe that minorities deliberately separate themselves from others with events such as African American Homecoming, the Latina/o Fashion show and Asian American Idol. Some people argue that attempts to diversify the campus are futile because of lack of interaction across racial and ethnic lines. But the reality of the situation is that it is not as big of a problem as some perceive it to be.

We do have a lot of events here that appear to be targeted to specific ethnic groups. Still, these events are usually open to students of all ethnic backgrounds. I agree that, for example, African American Homecoming may sound discriminatory, and the name probably should be changed. But the festivities of this event are not limited to black students and should be seen as opportunities for all students to experience a different culture.

It’s true that there is some self-segregation on campus, but it is due more to convenience and familiarity than racial animosity. A 1997 University of Michigan study showed that students’ friendships strongly reflect the racial composition of their neighborhood and high school. The tendency for University students to gravitate toward those of similar ethnic backgrounds, while a concern for some, is merely a side effect of much more serious social issues. Self-segregation on campus simply mirrors the realities created by larger social problems like white flight and the extreme segregation in neighborhoods.

Also, the self-segregation that we see here mostly reflects cultural differences. If you go to parties that are primarily attended by blacks, you will notice that there is much less emphasis on drinking and more on dancing. Having a keg of beer and playing classic rock music is obviously not going to attract a significant number of minorities.

Even still, self-segregation is an exaggerated problem. A recent study done at the UCLA showed that a majority of students believe that students at the campus do not socialize with people from different races. The same study, however, also showed that only 17 percent of students reported having a group of friends that was racially homogenous. Next time you are on the Quad, pay attention to the racial composition of groups of friends you see. I am sure you will find more mixed race groups than you expect.

Interestingly, it appears that white students are the most segregated. A study done in the early 90’s that was recently cited by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows that white students have far less contact with other races than other major ethnic groups like blacks, Asian Americans and Mexican Americans. It showed that white students were the least likely to dine, room and socialize with members of a different race. Furthermore, the study showed that white students were by far the least likely to date outside of the race.

These findings are not surprising to me because they reflect most of the anecdotal evidence gathered from my experiences on campus. On one occasion, a white student told me he did not hang out with black people because he does not understand the way many black people talk. Many white students that I’ve met do not want to go to parties that mostly attract minorities, and it has nothing to do with racism. Cultural differences such as music and vernacular are the biggest issues for white students, just as they are for minority students.

If we want to understand segregation on campus, we should go to our parents and ask them why they segregated themselves based on race. The ethnic divide on campus is not enforced by law or based solely on racism but merely a natural outcome of the racial tension that has been plaguing America since its birth. If we want to create a truly colorblind society, we must understand and confront the fundamental issues that perpetuate racial animosity throughout society.

Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected]