The University Record, January 14, 2002

MLK celebration kicks off with sessions on racial profiling

By Martin May

The start of the 2002 Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. symposium series featured two panel discussions on racial profiling and stereotyping.

The first event of Jan. 10, “It Isn’t a Matter of Black or White: The Realities of Inter-Minority Interaction,” brought together minority College of Engineering students Darrell Ford, Bernard Drew and Aditya Prasad, and Patricia Aqui, director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, to share their thoughts on and experiences with racial discrimination and stereotyping.

“Underrepresented minorities tend to be token characters on TV and in the movies,” said Bernard Drew, who also is a minority peer adviser in Baits Hall. As for his own experience, Drew, who is Black, said he faced discrimination when he was in high school in West Bloomfield, Mich., because people’s expectations for him were lower than for the white students. “I support affirmative action because it is a social program that counterbalances the difficulties underrepresented minorities nowadays face in society as a whole,” Drew said.

“I’ve had a lot more intra-racial interaction since I’ve come to college,” said Aditya Prasad. Prasad, who was born in India, grew up in Novi, Mich. Prasad said his high school had very few minority students, and he felt somewhat apart from his Indian heritage. “Intra-racial relations are much better for me now because there are more Asian students and Indian students in college and I’ve joined the American-Indian Students Association,” said Prasad. “As for inter-racial relations, I don’t think there’s been a big change. I see myself as a fair-minded person and I don’t have prejudice against other groups, but it seems to me the way I feel towards other minorities hasn’t changed.”

Stereotyping also occurs within a group, Darrell Ford said. “I grew up in ‘white’ Novi and later on in college, other African American students would tease me for being ‘white’—I talked and sounded ‘white,’ ” Ford said.

Students who feel they are being stigmatized or stereotyped may go to the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) for assistance. Patricia Aqui, director of MESA, says that the coordinators in her office help advise and counsel students who face discrimination. MESA also sponsors racial and ethnic awareness programs and events that aim to improve understanding across racial groups. “We are about getting people to learn about their own culture and getting people to share their culture with others,” Aqui said.

The program was held in the Lurie Engineering Center and was sponsored by Minority Peer Advisors of the College of Engineering and Tau Beta Pi.

The second event of the day was a panel discussion on racial profiling hosted by the U-M Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and held in the Michigan League. Panelists were Daniel Oates, Ann Arbor chief of police and former head of the Intelligence Division of the New York City Police Department; Robert Perry, professor and chair of the African-American Studies Department at Eastern Michigan University; and Delphia Simpson, racial justice fellow for the ACLU of Michigan.

Much of the talk focused on the current counterterrorism efforts of law enforcement and the recent U.S. Department of Justice initiative to interview approximately 5,000 young males, holders of non-immigrant visas, who entered the country in the last two years. Among the people requested for interviews were a number of U-M students. The Department of Justice said the interviews were voluntary and the people contacted were not suspects.

“I was convinced that the effort was sincere and was a non-coercive effort by the federal government,” said Oates in relation to the Department of Justice initiative. “From my understanding, interviews took place here on campus and Student Legal Services advised [those interviewed] to not have the Ann Arbor cops come and so we weren’t invited to come. I am not aware of any unpleasantries as a result of those interviews,” Oates said.

Robert Perry didn’t see the government’s action in quite the same way. “I don’t know if they would see a choice in reality when this request is coming from the government at a high level and they are on temporary non-immigrant visas,” responded Perry. “I think this puts these people into one class who are Arabs or Muslims and are on temporary non-immigrant visas, and I think this is a dangerous bias,” Perry stated.

Delphia Simpson of the ACLU says that she has had discussions with Arab-Americans who feel they are now under the microscope. “Arab-Americans very much want to help law enforcement as much as possible,” she said.

Racial profiling is wrong and bad police practice, chief Oates believes, and instead police should focus on criminal activity, not race, when profiling. “Under certain circumstances, inquiries based, in part, on race or religion is legitimate I believe, and the law supports that,” stated Oates.

The topics of racial profiling and stereotyping are major themes of the 2002 MLK symposium series. Future programs in this series intend to address current issues and dilemmas that society faces on these topics.