Dirty Campus, Clean Conscience, by Nick Cheolas

Deep racial fault lines were exposed on the campus of the University of Michigan in September of 2005 after two Asian students claimed that two white students urinated on them as they passed under an apartment balcony.

Before an investigation of the allegations could begin, embattled school administrators – already under pressure to prosecute and expel the alleged offenders – began with the assumption that their campus was a “harsh” place for minority students, where “incidents… have targeted our students based on their race.”

Even though schools such as the University of Michigan are awash in the culture of diversity, they remain tinderboxes for racial strife. The ease with which a campus can plunge into racial turmoil raises important questions: Why – 40 years after the peak of the civil rights movement – are the most progressive environments so racially polarized, and why is debate on racially-sensitive issues so often off-limits?

Universities have moved heaven and earth to appeal to minority students. Many colleges lower admission standards for them. Once on campus, these students have access to special minority lounges, peer advisors and counselors, and they are protected by special hate-crime legislation, speech codes and “multicultural” offices and initiatives. At many schools, courses on race and ethnicity that teach the correct way to view race are required for graduation.

Despite all this, race relations remain lukewarm at best. A look around any campus cafeteria or social event reveals self-segregation is the norm, even in these havens of diversity.

Why have these efforts failed to improve race relations?

Many argue diversity policies fail because they are crafted more to alleviate “white guilt” than truly spur minority advancement. Black intellectuals such as Shelby Steele, the author of the recently-released White Guilt, and Thomas Sowell argue that these policies inevitably result in the patronization of minority students – particularly blacks.

What the Sowells and Steeles of the world argue against is exactly the sentiment pervading college campuses. These universities and the individuals that populate them, Steele says, are essentially racist until proven otherwise. Liberals seem mired in an endless battle to prove themselves to be tolerant and sensitive individuals. It is not enough to simply not be racist – one must now be able to visibly demonstrate this fact.

Administrators use this diversity mission to justify racial preferences and segregation. Simply applying equal standards to all racial groups would not be enough to demonstrate that universities are fair and committed to minorities. Administrators feel compelled to go further, creating offices and programs tailored to minority students. They also respond vigorously to even the slightest hint of discrimination.

In the Michigan example, a review of the investigation into the alleged “hate crime” revealed serious inconsistencies. The victims changed their stories, lab tests contradicted their version of events and witnesses failed to corroborate their story. When the conservative campus publication reported these inconsistencies, the campus left fired back. “Confront the ideologies underlying hate crimes, [don’t] mock their victims,” wrote one student. This “confirms my observation that most straight white males are ignorant about social issues,” wrote another. Not surprisingly, the different standards by which racial groups are treated and judged have done little to achieve equality, integration and racial harmony.

It’s notable that the paper’s report was based on the content of police reports, detective notes and lab reports rather than on the skin color of those involved. Forty years ago, this was a liberal goal of the civil rights era. Today, it’s considered racist.

One must wonder what these college administrators truly believe. Do these champions of diversity and equality believe that minority students are incapable of surviving when held to the same standards as other students? Do they truly believe that all students need to be taught how to think about race and how to treat their fellow man? Or do they just sleep better at night knowing they’ve proved themselves not to be racist?

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Nick Cheolas is a research associate for the black leadership network Project 21, a student at the University of Michigan, and editor of The Michigan Review. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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