Small city, big culture shock: students from large metropolitan areas lament lack of food, racial diversity in Mount Pleasant
Lincoln Park senior Dana Whyte noticed Mount Pleasant’s lack of diversity after arriving on campus her freshman year.
Lincoln Park is part of the Downriver area of metropolitan Detroit. The area consists of 18 suburban cities and townships in southern Wayne County along the west side of the Detroit River.
“We’re kind of a separate area compared to the rest of Metro-Detroit,” Whyte said. “I’m glad I grew up there because there are literally all different types of people with different backgrounds.”
Whyte said growing up in Detroit exposed her to different cultures and provided the means of living alongside individuals from distinctively diverse backgrounds.
“Growing up in the metro area, you have no choice but to interact with people who may look different than you, which is so beneficial because you get a different outlook on life,” she said.
Oak Park freshman Patrick Riley, a Multicultural Advancement and Lloyd M. Cofer Scholar, said resources provided by Multicultural Academic Student Services help make diversity on campus a work-in-progress.
“I know (diversity) is an issue here, but I think Central is doing a good job at addressing it,” Riley said. “We have a lot of organizations in place to make integration a thing and to allow acceptance on campus.”
Riley said he never has trouble staying occupied on campus and keeps productive in the small-town environment by investing himself in academics and spending time with friends.
"It's a big enough campus to meet new people," he said. "People actually try to go out and talk to other people."
Riley said meeting new people in Detroit happens gradually while connections are made instantly due to the university's closeness.
"There's been weeks where I could have spent out every day and every night if I wanted to (with friends and new people), I felt that friends and focusing in on school has made my transition go relatively well," he said.
Dearborn, a city south of Oak Park, is home to more than 94,000 residents and has the largest Lebanese American population in the U.S.
More than 30 percent of the city’s residents identify as Arab-American or of Arab descent.
“It’s a pretty big town and there’s a lot of culture there and diversity,” said Dearborn senior Paige Kuczmarski.
Kuczmarski said for a majority of her high school career, she stuck to her own inner circle and had rarely ventured away from her ethnic community.
“I didn’t really seek outside my community,” she said, adding that participating in service projects were her first experiences with Dearborn’s massive diversity during her senior year of high school.
She avoids repeating those mistakes by attending Central Michigan University, she said, adding the university is a place for diverse groups to unify and grow together.
“What attracted me to Central was the closeness,” she said. “It’s like a family. You walk around and you see familiar faces and you always see your friends walking.”
Kuczmarski said she appreciates CMU for its sense of familiarity and how it has given her a leverage for frequently meeting and making relationships with new people.
“I never had that back home. My parents were never close with our neighbors and I would always drive to see the same group of friends,” she said. “But here you are close with so many new and different people.”
In Canton, sophomore Kennede Fischer said she experienced life in two different worlds living in a city about eight miles west of Detroit’s city limits and eight miles east of Ann Arbor’s city limits.
“Canton and Detroit are extremely different places, and it’s just almost unbelievable because they’re only 30 minutes apart,” Fischer said.
Fischer said she experienced two sides of life’s spectrum of big city living. In Canton, she was in a predominantly upper class and predominantly Caucasian community, while her Detroit roots and family showed her a very different reality.
“The concern of crime and violence in Detroit is much higher,” she said.
Despite the risks of living in Detroit, Fischer felt more uncomfortable in Canton due to her racial identity.
“Most of the time growing up, my family was the only African American family in the neighborhood,” she said. “I was one of three African American students in the classroom. I became the ‘token’ black friend and until coming to Central I didn’t even know about what I was.”
Fischer said transitioning to CMU was a culture shock that gave her the means of meeting people with similar identities, backgrounds and challenges.
“Having a smaller population and a smaller campus I think it’s easier to develop relationships with people from different cultures and backgrounds,” Fischer said.
Ada freshman Lauren Brewer said she still misses the glam and action of her Grand Rapids roots that came with growing up in a suburb.
"I would be exploring downtown at least four times a week," she said, adding she misses the art events and concerts that were taking frequently taking place in the area.
Brewer said her club golf team and occasional trips to Celebration! Cinema, the Mount Pleasant movie theatre, keep her entertained.
"Other than that, there's not really much to do here," Brewer said. "It feels very homely here, though. I think it's because of it being so small."
West Broomfield senior Shane Sperling said his hometown was a big, melting pot of people with large establishments for learning, shopping and dining in.
"(Mount Pleasant) has a small feel, you can't deny that, but it's kind of nice though," Sperling said.
Sperling said he enjoys going to tailgates and always seeing a familiar face walking through the crowded parking lot.
"The biggest challenge here would be getting used to not having the things here that I did at home, like Chipotle, but we're fixing that," he said.