Over 100 residents of Grand Rapids, Detroit and Washtenaw County gathered at the new Trotter Multicultural Center Saturday for the third annual Men of Color Symposium. This year’s theme was “Finding Your Flow.”
The symposium’s co-coordinator, Andrew Ward, an interim program manager for Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, said the idea for the symposium grew from another MESA program, My Brothers Empowerment, a monthly lunch series for men of color. Ward said the participants decided three years ago that they wanted a more expansive outlet for their work.
“The Men of Color Symposium was created just to create space for people to come together and build community and have an opportunity to foster relationships and grow and create space where conversations could happen to essentially support one another,” Ward said.
There are participants from across the campus and across the state who come together for a day to recognize their position in higher education. Ward said because he has only held his position at MESA for a few months, the symposium has been his biggest undertaking so far.
“This is a concept that was created to invite other community members, other interest groups who are looking for a space to connect with other people of color to talk about different diversity issues and initiatives that affect being a person of color on campus, especially here at U of M being a predominantly white institution,” Ward said.
Kinesiology freshman Moises Salgado said he felt like his connection to other men of color was lacking in his first year at the University of Michigan. Salgado had been active in a men of color group at his high school, and he struggled to find a similar community when he came to college. He joined La Casa and said while he enjoys it, the group did not feel like it fully represented the intersectionality of his identity.
“It’s not exactly the same, and focusing on my identity as both a man and a person of color and the intersectionality of them is something that I appreciate and something that I feel like I should be doing more,” Salgado said.
Salgado said he appreciated the opportunity to be surrounded by people like him at the symposium.
“This is a minority community at the University of Michigan, so it’s important for us to know that we have other people,” Salgado said.
Ward said the goal of this year’s symposium was to welcome more people into the conversation.
“One thing that we really wanted to focus on this year is thinking bigger, thinking about how are we reaching the different cultures, different student populations here on campus and trying to diversify,” Ward said.
Ward said the symposium exceeded their goal of 80 participants with a turnout of over 100. Participants were encouraged to post about the symposium on social media and spread the word so the symposium can continue to grow.
“At the new Trotter on State Street where it was birthed out of the Black Action Movement, we’re trying to go where students are and meet them where they are and invite them into space for them to feel comfortable about having conversations about their experience on campus and helping them find their flow,” Ward said.
The symposium’s other co-coordinator, Javier Solorzano, University alum and program manager for MESA, said the goal was to encourage accessibility with this year’s event.
“What’s really cool is that Trotter is a place for people of color, not just men of color, and knowing that this is the first time that the space is used on the weekend,” Solorzano said. “It’s really powerful for men of color to come together to begin making meaning of what does it mean to be an undergraduate, what does it mean to be a graduate, what does it mean to be a staff or even a faculty here, and how can we come together today in this space, knowing that it’s made for us.”
Solorzano and Ward both explained there were people in attendance who may not identify as a man or a person of color. Solorzano said this kind of allyship is what will help the University become more empathetic.
“It is important for folks who may not identify as men of color to come to this space and learn from this space, because it is always great to learn from our differences,” Solorzano said.
Solorzano said he wants participants to be able to move forward with faith that their community will support them.
“What we hope to allow participants to take from the symposium is their understanding of the resources and community that they have here at U of M,” Solorzano said. “Our hope is that we’re able to create a network that helps students succeed in however they want to name that success.”