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Updated 1:00 PM September 29, 2003
 

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Documentary looks at diversity through eyes of students


In a time when diversity is a major buzzword on campus and throughout the country, a new documentary explores how U-M students experience diversity in college and their lives in general.

A student participates in English 225, taught by Randall Tessier, in this image from the film "Campus Diversity, Student Voices," which will premiere Oct. 7. (Image by Scott Mann, BMC Media)

"The complex issues pertaining to matters of diversity in higher education are important social and political challenges in this country. Engaging with them is crucial for those who want to make the most of their education," says Pat McCune, director of Dialogues on Diversity and writer, director and producer of the film, "Campus Diversity, Student Voices."

The 53-minute documentary features 11 U-M students, with selections from 14 other students woven in to provide counterpoint and dimension to the stories, says McCune.

"Most of those featured are undergraduate students [who are] generally representative of the student body," she says.

The interviews, which took place in the fall and winter of 2002-03, consisted of nine questions, including: Is the University's focus on diversity inevitably divisive? Where on campus do we really have an opportunity to be with people who are different? Has Michigan's diversity had an impact on your life? From these, the script was developed using issues that showed up frequently in the students' answers.

The documentary shows, for example, "how important [University] Housing is in learning how to get along with other people," McCune says. "Every single person mentioned this as a positive experience."

McCune only was looking for two things when she asked for help from faculty and staff in recruiting students for the documentary: people who were articulate and who had interesting views on the subject. The students' responses encompassed a wide range of viewpoints, from conservative to liberal and uninterested to engaged, she says.

"What emerges is the range and meaning of those subjective experiences, and the significance of both formal and informal opportunities the University provides in campus life to learn from difference," McCune says.

The production of the documentary was a project of Dialogues on Diversity, a campus-wide initiative providing opportunities for open exchange of views about the value of diversity. It was wholly a maize and blue affair, with an entire crew of U-M alumni—including the narrators, musical composer and editor—and videography and production assistance provided by BMC Media. It was underwritten by the Rackham Graduate School.

While the value of diversity has been a major theme of U-M's legal defense of its admissions policies, McCune says the Supreme Court verdict that upheld the value of diversity has no bearing on the message or goal of the documentary. "The subject is student experience, not the admissions process," she says.

The documentary focuses on students' perceptions to provoke thoughtful and informed discussions of complex issues. It does not represent or promote University policies.

The premiere of "Campus Diversity, Student Voices" will open with introductions from Paul N. Courant, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and Earl Lewis, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. The screening will take place at 4 p.m. Oct. 7 in the Michigan Theater. The event is free and open to the public.

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