The University of Michigan-Dearborn issued an apology Wednesday for creating segregated online student “cafes,” one for white people and another for people of color, that it says were intended to promote discussions about race and diversity.
A statement by the university near Detroit came after two virtual “cafe” events were held Tuesday, with one advertised as a “non-POC Cafe” for non-people of color to ”gather and discuss their experience as students on campus and as non-POC in the world.”
The other, dubbed “BIOPIC Cafe” was for Black, Indigenous and People of Color, and described as a space for “marginalized racial/ethnic/cultural communities to gather and to relate with one another to discuss their experience as students on campus″ and in the world.
Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he understood the intention but “it could have been done better, obviously.” Ayoub said such spaces are created for students of color who have experienced racism to safely share their experiences. He added it’s important that white students hear and learn from the experiences of students of color in these discussions.
“It seemed that opportunity was missed intentionally,” said Ayoub, a UM-Dearborn graduate. “We know this is a mistake but hope they move forward.”
In it’s statement, UM-Dearborn apologized for referring to the online gatherings as “cafes,” saying they weren’t intended to be exclusive or exclusionary for individuals of a certain race.
The use of “cafe” was the cause of much confusion as people online thought the university was building two separate, physical cafes to serve students, said Vice-Chancellor Ken Kettenbeil, adding the sessions were one-time events, but he anticipates the dialogue will continue.
“The terms used to describe these virtual events and the descriptions themselves were not clear and not reflective of the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” the university’s statement said.