To create racially and culturally diverse neighborhoods, the university [Michigan State] uses a round-robin format to place first-year students in residence halls, but disproportionate racial representation has remained an issue, said Amy Franklin-Craft, the associate director of the Department of Residence Life.
According to enrollment numbers provided by the Office of Planning and Budgets in the 2011 Data Digest, 73 percent of undergraduate students identified themselves as white, 7 percent identified themselves as African-American/black, 4 percent identified themselves as Asian and 3 percent identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino.
However, based on data from the Department of Residence Life in the World 2010.pdf, very few residence halls have a racial makeup similar to the university averages, leaving many wondering whether the imbalance is a result of student choice or institutional bias.
Bridging the gap
When interdisciplinary studies in social science senior Devin Evans moved into Hubbard Hall as a freshman in fall 2008, he joined the hall with the second highest percentage of black students. In 2008, 29 percent of the students in Hubbard were black, trailing only Butterfield Hall, where 38 percent of the students were black, both halls well above the university average.
Evans, who is black, said he has heard residence halls receive nicknames because of the racial makeup of the students they house, such as Brody Complex Neighborhood being referred to as “the Brojects.”
Although finding it comforting to be around a large number of students from a similar background, after two years in Hubbard, Evans knew he needed a change.
The following year, he moved into Snyder Hall, where, combined with Phillips Hall, 76 percent of the students were white–25 percent higher than the percentage of white students in Hubbard his first year–and became an intercultural aide.
This year, Evans is an intercultural aide in Wilson Hall and said encouraging students to interact with people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds has been a difficult process.
Evans said the intercultural aides in Wilson and Holden Halls are working together to hold a variety of intercultural events as a way to bring students together.
“(In) both places, it has been very difficult getting people to break people off from their shell of friends,” he said. “We have to have intercultural events to allow people to interact with other people because they probably wouldn’t do it by themselves. It helps to bridge the gap.”
Franklin-Craft said before 2009, incoming freshmen were allowed to request their residence hall, which she believes resulted in self-segregation.
Although the numbers have improved slightly after the change, Franklin-Craft said MSU still isn’t where it needs to be.
“There was absolutely a self-segregation that was happening across campus,” she said. “Students coming into Michigan State may not have had that experience of working with students from other backgrounds.”
In order to break the pattern of segregation, Darden said the university must create a policy of integration, in which each residence hall represents the university’s racial average.
Without this policy, Darden said students will continue to perpetuate the divided living experiences they learned as children because it’s the only experience they’ve had.
“Knowledge is what a university is supposed to present to students, and knowledge comes in different forms,” he said. “It’s clear if they don’t do it the outcome is segregation and the outcome will be students are no different than when they came in. … That’s a price the university pays. That’s a choice.”