who are your friends on the facebook?: a racial analysis

i decided to take a break from the things i need to do (i find that i spend more time taking breaks from these things than i spend actually doing them) to do a little research of my own.

in joyce‘s facebook profile, her “about me” section includes this:

“I’m trying to get out of the Asian-Am black hole.”

well said, my friend. michigan is a school known for diversity but not for integration. a quick look around the campus or a peek at the list of organizations is enough to illustrate this point — the first two rows of tables in the bursley dining hall are the black tables; the fishbowl between the hours of 9pm and 3am is overwhelmingly asian; there’s a different organization for every racial or ethnic group you can imagine, if not multiple ones. even frats and sororities are broken down by race, and there are ethnic-specific a cappella groups. there’s separate groups for american-born asians (tasa, csa, iasa, ksa) and foreign-born asians (twsa, cssa, isa, kisa).

in my mind, there are a number of factors that play into why michigan, as much as it trumpets diversity, still remains extremely segregated.

first is the fact that it trumpets diversity as much as it does. when you make racial diversity your calling card, race automatically becomes a salient feature.

second is the fact that michigan is so large that there’s actually a large number of every kind of student imaginable. you can get pretty specific and still have a group of reasonable size — unlike at smaller schools, where in order to get a group of decent size, you have to clump a few ethnic groups together. whereas some schools have asian american associations to serve their asian populations, our school has an aaa as well as 12 or 13 student associations for individual asian ethnic groups.

therefore, as soon as students walk onto campus, their racial identities are primed — thanks to michigan’s diversity hype — and they’re quickly recruited by different organizations catering to their specific ethnic identity. one also makes friends in dorms and classes, whom they can keep for 4 years; but whereas living arrangements and classes change, student organizations remain constant. therefore, the people that one consistently encounters over 4 years are often the ones from student orgs.

on a less scientific note, i think that the asian american scene really is a black hole. students from predominantly white towns often come here and are excited to find people who understand them on a level that their friends from home couldn’t; students from places with lots of asians come here and, surrounded by asians, usually find no reason to make other friends. it’s a bit of a catch-22.

personally, i came to michigan with a roughly 50-50 breakdown of asian/nonasian friends. my friends from high school were predominantly white (though not WASPy white — mostly jewish, catholic, armenian, etc.), and my friends from church (and the troy people i met through them) were all asian. these groups had very little overlap — yt, wendo, and pei were the only three — but overall, i had a pretty diverse group of friends.

things changed entirely when i came to michigan. ccf became my family away from home, so i spent a lot of time with people from there; through ccf, i ended up going to kbc, a korean church, and i ended up performing at genAPA, an asian american cultural show (one of the numerous asian cultural shows that this school hosts). i wasn’t intentionally avoiding non-asian people; they just happened to be the people i was around the most. and i wasn’t socially aware enough at this point to make an effort to meet nonasian people.

i did, however, live with a friend from high school who was white, and we had a close-knit, diverse hall, and i also kept up with friends from high school. there were lots of non-asian people in my classes, too — but even in class, we would somehow naturally segregate. my great books discussion had 10 white people and 9 minority students, and every section we would somehow end up on opposite ends of the room. a similar thing happened in my orgo ssg. i don’t know exactly why it happened — was it our own subconscious effort? were the white students avoiding us? — but somehow it did.

the next year i lived with my old hallmates, served on ccf core, participated in the huaren bodyworship, and started serving at home, which took the better part of my weekend away from campus. the year after that i lived with 2 girls from my orgo ssg (asian), more ccf, ksa show, still going home every week; senior year was the same, only switch ksa with huaren.

therefore, over the course of my 4 years at michigan, my circle of friends became increasingly asian. i met nonasian people at work in the honors office (my fellow campus day and orientation peer advisors and all the students we worked with) and through iv and greek iv, and i kept up with my high school friends and a few from classes; but otherwise, i met a whole lot of asian people. (not that having asian friends is bad in the least; it’s just nice to know other people, to see other perspectives, to know how to relate to other people, etc.)

to examine just how asian-polarized my group of friends has become, i decided to analyze the racial breakdown of my friends on the facebook. (i made pie charts, but i don’t know how to save them as jpgs, so i’ll just give you the text version)

east asian, 152, 68%
asian indian, 8, 4%
white, 47, 21%
black, 8, 4%
hispanic, 1, 0%
middle eastern, 1, 0%
mixed, 5, 2%
fictional, 2, 1%
total 224

other schools:
east asian, 58, 74%
asian indian, 2, 3%
white, 16, 20%
black, 1, 1%
hispanic, 1, 1%
fictional, 1, 1%
total 79

east asian, 210, 69%
asian indian, 10, 3%
white, 63, 21%
black, 9, 3%
hispanic, 2, 1%
middle eastern, 1, 0%
mixed, 5, 2%
fictional, 3, 1%
total 303

even i was surprised by the results. i think it’s because my entire first page of friends is all non-asian… but then you get whammied by a whole page of chens. and so on.

the facebook sample isn’t entirely representative of my friends for a few reasons:
1. the facebook was released in michigan a few days before commencement, so a lot of my friends from my year and earlier aren’t on it (both at michigan and at other schools)
2. the facebook tends to be a pretty asian thing in general (or maybe that’s just my relative lack of asian friends talking)

but even so — if it’s a semi-random sample of people i know — dang.

the sad thing is that i think i know more non-asian people than the average asian on campus.

so anyhoo, i just thought i would share that with you. i was about to say that research is fun and that i wouldn’t mind doing it if it were stuff like this and it’s too bad i wasn’t a soc major… but then i remembered that in the real world, i’d have to hunt down and read 908318 articles, only 46 of which would prove to be relevant, and i wouldn’t be able to spout my own unsubstantiated theories. research and i will never be good friends.

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