The Center for Campus Involvement hosted a conversation Monday night on professional, casual and romantic interracial relationships as a part of their Hot Topic Series. The event was entitled “Unpacking Interracial Relationships”. CCI began the series using the funding they received from a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion grant they received to encourage open discussions about common issues in the University of Michigan community.
LSA junior Sunanda Adibhatla, DEI program coordinator for CCI and the event’s discussion facilitator, said she hopes the conversation will lead to ideas on how to eliminate stigmas surrounding minority groups.“
There’s still a lot of tension with people of different backgrounds,” Adibhatla said. “And we have some sort of subconscious biases towards how we interact with people. And the question is, how do we eradicate that or at least become aware of it? ”CCI program advisor Jamie Alt said she hoped the event would open students’ minds and lead to further conversation about interracial relationships.“
To be able to expand people’s minds about topics that are sometimes really challenging or give people a sense of fear that they can’t talk about that because of their identity or something,” Alt said. “So just trying to break those barriers about what it means to talk about topics that are around diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Attendees began by discussing their own identities and how they handle meeting new people.LSA junior Divya Gumudavelly said she thinks about the impact stereotypes have on people’s perceptions of her.“Regardless of who you are or where you come from, everyone already has a preconception of what you might be like based on what they see initially.” Gumudavelly said. “When I introduce myself, even if it is just saying my name correctly or people are like, ‘Oh your last name is really hard,’ just sort of breaking what sort of conceptions people have of me and to get to know me and not go off stereotypes.”
Alt responded by highlighting the difference between her and Gumudavelly’s experiences. She said she does not consider generalizations people might think about her when they first meet.
“I don’t ever think about a stereotype when I meet someone,” Alt said. “But that’s probably a lot of my privilege as a white woman from this country, that I just want people to think, ‘Oh she was nice.’”
Rackham student Ismael El-Tayuddin discussed the importance of having interracial relationships and interacting with people from all different cultures and backgrounds. He suggested talking with a close friend about their culture to properly understand it and then bring this new knowledge to all future experiences.
“I think it helps also to learn about other cultures by proxy,” El-Tayuddin said. “So if you have someone that you feel comfortable talking about issues with … you can get more information from them so when you do go out and interact with other people, you kind of know how to keep appropriate boundaries, what to say and not to say and how to be respectful towards other people.”
Adibhatla then discussed the gap in understanding different cultures between generations and how someone’s ethnicity is not the same as their beliefs.
“I think it is a misconception with older generations and with people here that values equate to culture which equates to race,” Adibhatla said. “You can find someone who has the same background as you and the same family traditions but has completely different morals than you.”
The event concluded by discussing what steps should be taken moving forward to reduce stereotypes and to increase open-mindedness on campus. El-Tayuddin said minority groups are used to interacting with other cultures and having interracial relationships. He called on white people to make the first move and step outside of their comfort zones.
“I always hear how American culture is the dominant culture,” El-Tayuddin said. “Our (minority groups) whole lives, we’re used to navigating that system and interacting with this mainstream culture, and then we go home and have this culture in our house. We’re already bicultural. But they’re (white people) in a space where they dominate the culture and they’re not used to having to do something that is uncomfortable for them or understand someone else. So I feel like it’s not really on me. I think it has to be more of a step on their part.”