Does UMD Self-Segregate?

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by NAOMI HARRIS

Do you think University of Maryland is self-segregated, racially? According to a post on Reddit, a user asked this question because they were told that the campus, though more diverse, still self-segregates.

The term self-segregation is pretty self-explanatory. People segregate in their own groups by choice. But usually the term places unnecessary emphasis on people of color participating more than the majority.

“Self-segregation in itself is a problematic term,” Mark Birmhall, the Deputy Chief Diversity Officer of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion said. “It assumes people who are ‘segregating’ are equally empowered and that people have decided to just sit apart from each other.”

University of Maryland, a considerably diverse college campus, is 54% white and 46% minority. Students still group together and this action is not necessarily negative.

“Being with people, like oneself, is important in the process of maturation.” Birmhall explained. “When people have a solid grounding in their identity they’re much more able to engage with people who are different than them.”

MICA, also known as Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy, plays an important role in building diversity and identity into students at the university.

“We serve students through organizations focused on diversity and social identities,” Yvette Lerma, coordinator for Latino Student Involvement explained, “and we also provide space for cross-cultural interaction.”

Even if students are ready to branch out and interact with others who are different than them, they may not know the best method in doing so.

“One of the things that is difficult is most people grow up in very segregated environments and so what happens is when they come to the university they don’t have cross-group interaction skills,” Birmhall explained.

This college campus prides itself on the diversity but will students want to truly diversify the people around them?

“It depends because some students never leave their social circle,” Lerma said, “and will not question the environment.”

Students left to their own devices may not accept diversity as Birmhall labeled it, “without facilitation,” and so there are events and organizations created, specifically to tackle this issue.

This is where organizations like MICA or Birmhall’s program, Words of Engagement Inner Group Dialogue, helps because it gives students the opportunity to learn more. Hopefully, once students have the space and method of accepting diversity they can participate in other groups without facilitation.

“I see the institution as a way to prepare students for the world as it is and give them a sense of what it can be,” Birmhall said.

Students can take advantage of the diverse people around them through encouragement of staff members like Lerma.

“Topics and conversations can come up when you hang out in a way that allows for interaction,” Lerma said. “Once people allow for conversation it not only encourages students but it empowers them.”

With recent tragic events sparking national protest, students can do more to learn why cases like Michael Brown or Eric Garner have led to such reactions and frustrations.

At first, self-segregation was really meant to identify minority groups as problematic when in reality people of color are forced into an environment that is indeed built for the white race. Even the university as Birmhall said was created for “young, white men.”

But students who do group together with others like them are doing it for comfort and stability.

To put it plainly, one of the users who responded to the original question said: “UMD is like a cluster of social/racial spheres. Each of those spheres have their own culture but they don’t typically have problems overlapping.”