Students from big cities adjust to life at CMU

When Farmington Hills senior Alexis Baker came to Central Michigan University as a Multicultural Advancement Scholar, she expected its campus to be more diverse.

“I come from an area that is quite a bit diverse so coming to CMU and seeing the kind of segregation and lack of diversity was a shock,” Baker said. “I was really shocked to see how separated each racial group seems to be here and I had a hard time finding where I fit in because I didn’t directly identify with any of the groups 100 percent.”

In the past five years, CMU has experienced a 50 percent change in on-campus minority enrollment. Compared to about 10 years ago, the minority student enrollment on campus has nearly doubled.

Patricia Young, who works in University Admissions and focuses on recruiting multicultural students, said CMU’s freshman class this year was made up of 22 percent multicultural students. However, CMU’s overall student population is less diverse than that, with multicultural students making up about 15 percent of the undergraduate student body. She wants to see multicultural students make up 20 percent of the undergraduate student body by 2020.

Bringing students to campus

Young said a lot of efforts go into recruiting students. Their office tracks students using a data management system and keeps data on them, sending out emails, brochures and follow-up calls.

Recently, their office mailed promotional materials to 10, 000 students. Soon, they’ll send an email to 20, 000 more.

Each fall, the recruiters visit about 1000 high schools in total and throughout one year, about 200-300 groups of students travel to CMU by bus to get a tour of campus.

“The point is we want students to be exposed to college,” Young said. “It’s not realistic that they will all come here. We want to expose them to a college campus and that’s what it’s about.”

She said in terms of recruitment, face to face interactions go a long way.

“We’re the fourth largest (university in Michigan) so at some level our university holds its own weight,” Young said. “There will be some students that our office never talked to and they’ll still apply but there are some students who will only apply if we talk to them.”

CMU receives approximately 21,000 applications per year.

However, Young said CMU still has to be strategic in its recruitment.

Recruiting diverse students

Young travels to Saginaw, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Wyoming and Muskegon to recruit students. There is a separate recruitment team that works in Detroit, and there are now two recruiters who focus on Illinois.

Because of this recent focus on recruiting in and near Chicago, the number of students from Chicago attending CMU has increased. In addition to having two recruiters in the area, CMU brings in many bus groups from there, paying for the students’ transportation and meals, Young said.

Any out of state student with a 2.75 grade point average or higher can receive in-state tuition from CMU, she said, which often makes attending CMU cheaper than attending school at home would be for Chicago students.

“A cool thing about our diversity changing and increasing is that our student body is also coming from more locations too,” Young said.

In terms of recruiting diverse students from within the state of Michigan, Young said the Multicultural Advancement Scholarship is a strong recruitment tool. The scholarship is open to anyone, but because it focuses on diversity, it tends to attract more diverse students, she said.

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Part of the change in CMU’s student population is because of the changes in Michigan’s population.

“The state of Michigan’s demographics are changing. You’re seeing a decrease in the white student populations in high schools just across the board,” Young said.

Retaining diverse students

University Admissions works closely with the Office for Institutional Diversity, which focuses more on retention once students attend CMU.

“I would say it’s important to be intentional to make sure all students are integrated,” Young said. “Maybe you’ve got a student coming from the suburbs – they might have easier integration because of what they’re used to versus a student from the inner city who might’ve had less resources.”

In additional to the Office for Institutional Diversity, CMU has other programs and resources aimed at helping and retaining diverse students, such as Multicultural Academic Student Services and the Center for Inclusion and Diversity. This past year, the Office of Student Activities and Involvement hosted IMPACT for the first time. IMPACT was free for students and was successful this year, Young said.

“(IMPACT) gives our multicultural students kind of their own programming. Obviously there’s Leadership Safari and they will do both,” she said. “It’s required that students who do IMPACT also do Safari. It kind of gives them an opportunity to network with other students like themselves and they were also able to take a lot more out of Leadership Safari.”

However, Young said more could always be done to provide resources to diverse students, especially at a university where diversity is present but not prevalent.

She said she doesn’t necessarily think multicultural students are well integrated on campus because she has seen multicultural students reach out for help for a variety of reasons. She said their office is open to these students, even if speaking with them isn’t in the recruiters’ job descriptions.

“It’s all of our jobs. From professors to staff to financial aid to admissions to retention. We all need to be intentional about supporting all of our students and sometimes you just have to take a couple extra steps to make sure that it’s an even playing field,” she said.

She said CMU’s location also poses challenges because universities in bigger towns or cities might have more resources in the area or more diverse communities.

“We’re Mount Pleasant, Michigan. We’re not a big city so students who are comfortable with big cities, there’s a challenge there,” she said. “At the same time, we’re a fantastic university and have a lot to offer students. We have a big presence of Chicago students on campus.”

Adjusting to campus life

Baker said there are great resources for students on campus. However, she said she only knows about them because she’s a Multicultural Advancement Scholar. She isn’t sure how well they’re promoted to other students. She also thinks CMU is very segregated.

“I think it stems from people just sticking around what they know and a good portion of people that go here grew up in rural areas with less diversity than there is here,” Baker said. “I think we all just need to step out of our comfort zone a bit to improve the situation.”

Detroit junior Ahsha Davis said she was skeptical about the diversity at CMU when she went on a campus tour. She chose CMU because she received a good scholarship.

Now that she’s here, she loves CMU but thinks the diversity and inclusion at CMU is somewhere in the middle; it’s getting there, she said, but it could still use some work.

“I think it depends on the group. I know living in the dorms is very accepting and inclusive,” Davis said. “Greek Life and (Student Activities and Involvement) are so inclusive. I think the improvement is more so within the student organizations. Inviting others and showing diversity will encourage others to take part.”

  Chicago                                        Mount Pleasant

An increasing number of students from Chicago are attending CMU. These photos illustrate just a few differences they might have to adjust to.

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Students, faculty reflect on the need for campus safe spaces

Some Central Michigan University classes made up of international students have discussed the results of the United States presidential election, while others have skipped over the topic. Caitlin Hamstra, an English Language Institute faculty member and the head of ELI’s Conversation Partners program, said whether or not an ELI class discusses politics depends on the students.

“I teach beginning students and I brought (the election) up but they didn’t want to talk about it so we didn’t,” Hamstra said. “Some groups did want to talk about it so the teachers did. I think it really needs to come from the students – what they want to talk about, when they want to talk about it, how they want to talk about it.”

She said one ELI teacher showed a map of how millennials voted to show that a large percentage of young people didn’t vote for Donald Trump.

“One of the teachers showed how millennials voted so (international students) would know that their age group voted for inclusion, not exclusion; that students shouldn’t be afraid of their classmates, that there are people they can trust, that we do want them here,” Hamstra said.

This semester, wanting international students to feel safe and welcome on CMU’s campus, Hamstra started a group called Women of the World, which aims to provide a safe space for women to share their cultures, experiences and struggles in a comfortable environment.

Though she started the group with international students in mind, it is open to all women. So far, the group has met twice. Hamstra hopes to build the group more next semester.

With the recent presidential election, discussions about safe spaces have become even more prevalent nationwide, with many people either advocating for or against safe spaces. A common criticism is that college students shield themselves from opinions that differ from theirs, using “politically correct” language and trigger warnings.

Hamstra said she defines a safe space as a place where people can comfortably talk about what they want, trust each other and be open about who they are.

“I think it’s really important (to have safe spaces on campus),” she said. “I think for people to be able to learn, grow and interact, they have to feel safe. I think having those spaces demonstrates that the university is committed to those students – that women and international students are an important part of this campus.”

Finding safe spaces across campus

Midland junior Cali Winslow, who is the president of Students Advocating Gender Equality, said SAGE provides a safe space to people of all gender identities at its weekly meetings.

Other identity-focused registered student organizations, such as Spectrum and Transcend, aim to provide a safe space for students at their meetings as well.

The Office of LGBTQ Services provides a safe space for students, while also offering Safe Zone trainings to other groups and areas on campus. Portage sophomore Gwen Bagley works at the Wesley Foundation, a church that participated in the Safe Zone training. She found the training to be useful and thinks more individuals and groups on campus should take advantage of it to gain a better understanding of the issues some individuals face.

After the election, the Office of Institutional Diversity hosted various caucuses where African American, American Indian and LGBTQ students could discuss the results of the election in a safe environment.

Though these spaces exist, Bagley doesn’t know where any safe spaces on campus are located.

Hamstra thinks CMU’s campus could have more safe spaces, specifically for women and international students, such as a women’s area, and easily accessible religious designated areas or prayer rooms.

The goal of these spaces

Winslow said safe spaces allow marginalized people to meet without judgment, harassment or violence.

“Especially after all of the hateful words and acts we’ve seen after this election, it is very important that people have a place where they can feel safe and validated,” Winslow said.

For international students, Hamstra thinks some other reasons international students might not feel safe or comfortable in other environments on campus is because of language barriers and cultural differences. Because of these two factors, she said many international students, particularly women, are hesitant to stand up for themselves or advocate for themselves.

“We just want a place where everyone can feel comfortable and I don’t think you’re necessarily always going to get that everywhere on campus,” Hamstra said.

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Safe spaces and free expression

Though many people see a purpose for safe spaces, many others do not.

Winslow said she thinks some people who don’t support safe spaces have the misconception that safe spaces are meant to censor speech.

“(People who don’t support safe spaces) often point to freedom of speech as justification for their opposition to safe spaces,” she said. “But safe spaces are not about controlling what others say. Fundamentally, safe spaces are about creating an atmosphere of support. It isn’t about censorship – I would argue that it’s the opposite. Safe spaces intend to provide a space where everyone feels comfortable sharing personal experiences.”

Hamstra said she thinks many people who criticize safe spaces are people who don’t understand the need for them because of their own privilege.

“It seems to me that people who don’t want to support those spaces, it’s because they feel safe everywhere,” she said. “They maybe don’t necessarily understand how other people feel. Not providing those spaces is an implicit message that your feelings of safety aren’t as important.”

Muskegon junior Kaitlyn Reed said she isn’t someone who has ever felt like she needed a safe space, but she doesn’t think providing a space for people is a problem. However, she thinks it can get out of hand when people seem to be offended by everything.

Royal Oak junior Sydney Fairman also said she understands the concept of safe spaces and thinks providing them doesn’t hurt anyone, but to some extent, she thinks people should “suck it up” when they don’t agree with something someone else says.

Winslow, however, thinks people who seek safe spaces are not hiding from offensive content.

“People in need of safe spaces are very familiar with offensive language and actions, and face this frequently from the outside world,” she said. “Safe spaces create a safe space to process and deal with the impact that offensive content has had on them.”

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A Taste of Home: Indian student prepares traditional food, embraces culture

Sometimes Namrata Baipally eats hamburgers and pizza. She likes french fries, which she also enjoyed fairly often in India, her home country.

But the Central Michigan University graduate student also misses the traditional Indian food that she can’t find around Mount Pleasant.

Two or three times a week, she prepares some of her favorite Indian dishes, such as mushroom curry, to get a taste of the traditional, spicy foods she ate at home.

A Taste of Home from Paige Sheffield on Vimeo.