The University Record, February 07, 2000


Reader questions ‘selective’ racial identification

Editor’s Note: This letter and the Record’s response are reprinted with the permission of the letter writer.

I am writing to protest the selective use of racial identification in your descriptions of suspects in the “Police Beat” column. Only Black suspects appear to be identified by race; why are the racial identifiers omitted from other descriptions? That kind of selective use of racial identifiers contributes to stereotypical images of who commits crimes.

Eleanor Singer, senior research scientist, Survey Research Center

Dear Eleanor:

Thank you for your message concerning the use of racial identification in the “Police Beat” column.

It is the Record’s policy to identify an individual by race only when it is relevant. We do use racial identification, if it has been provided, when reporting on crimes in which the perpetrator has not been apprehended.

We try to provide as much physical description of the perpetrator as we can—gender, height, weight, race, clothing and any other identifiable features—to allow members of the community to protect themselves and to enable them to provide information that will help police identify suspects.

In the Jan. 17 “Police Beat,” we carried articles on three robberies in which the suspects are still at large. The race of the perpetrator is unknown for two of the incidents—the Dec. 7 robbery and stabbing near the Michigan League and the Nov. 7 robbery near Martha Cook. The victim in the third incident—the Dec. 2 robbery near Palmer Drive—was able to provide racial information, and we included it with the other physical description information.

Diversity important component of quality education

When asked by a congressman with purse strings whether his research on the fundamental particles of nature would help to defend this country, Robert Wilson boldly replied: No, but it will help make this country worth defending. (Wilson, one of America’s most outstanding physicists and a lab director, died two weeks ago, and the obituary reminded me of that event.)

Wilson’s statement suggested how I could explain my feelings about affirmative action at the University of Michigan. Is admission to this University worth struggling over? No, not unless we work hard to maintain and improve the quality of education. And that quality rests in part on the diversity of the students and faculty with whom a student will interact.

I experienced the benefits of diversity when I taught physics using the “Keller” plan, in which students who did well in the course the year before act as tutors. The students and tutors in this pre-engineering course are a strikingly diverse group. Many come, or have families who recently came, from all over the world; the families of others came, generations back, from Africa. There are many women. (This diversity is aided by the engineering school’s strong effort at recruitment.) Tutors of all backgrounds are successfully helping others with their physics. In one of my classes, for example, one successful tutor was a Muslim woman wearing her scarf; another was a Black woman. I saw that such experiences had a strong positive effect on the students’ educational experience.

Quality of education is not a simple nor a static concept. And improving it is a continuing struggle. Those who seek to simplify and narrow the criteria for admission to Michigan, and thus to narrow the backgrounds of the student body, advocate a retreat in that struggle. They do the University and its students a serious disservice.

Marc Ross, professor of physics