A group of six students and two student-leaders from Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs convened for a peer-led anti-racism teach-in Tuesday evening to discuss ways to combat racial intolerance and promote a more inclusive environment at the University of Michigan.
The teach-in was part of a new series of workshops led by MESA aiming to engage students in conversations about inequality, social justice activism and personal experiences with discrimination. Tuesday’s event was the fourth teach-in led by MESA this school year.
LSA sophomore Adeoluwa Ijidakinro, a student leader who has worked with MESA for two years, said the teach-in is more necessary now than in previous years because of the growing presence of hate speech and racially charged language in national discourse.
“With the recent trend that is happening in America, you have this popularity of hate statements toward Latinx people, you have this popularity of hate statements toward immigrants,” Ijidakinro said. “In this time, especially with our current administration, I feel that this teach-in about anti-racism is needed now more than ever.”
Ijidakinro said he and LSA junior Shaima Abdullah, another student leader within MESA, chose to focus the teach-in on contemporary racial issues in addition to the history of racism in the United States to show how past events directly impact current prejudices.
“I do think that the majority of people think that the civil rights era has ended, and you think of the Martin Luther King era, but when we show students what’s occurred recently on campus to compare to the history, they’re seeing the similarities and it’s just proof that civil rights hasn’t ended,” Ijidakinro said.
During the event, Abdullah and Ijidakinro led numerous activities, including filling in a timeline of racism in the U.S. and completing a worksheet on the “Four ‘I’s of oppression,” in order to generate conversation regarding one’s influence on systemic issues such as racism and inequity. The Four Is of oppression, which include institutional, ideological, interpersonal and internalized, urged students to realize change can occur through both group and individual actions.
Engineering junior Bhavin Gandhi, a residential adviser for University Housing, said a lawsuit filed against the U-M Bias Response Team in May 2018 often restricts his ability as an RA to protect his residents from hate speech in dorms. After the University responded to the lawsuit by claiming University policies do not infringe upon free speech, RAs are no longer allowed to erase slurs or racist symbols from whiteboards outside students’ rooms.
During the teach-in, students reflected on how they challenge racism and inequality in their daily lives through student organizations or activism. Gandhi said his role as an RA gives him the opportunity to both challenge his innate biases and confront them by helping other students navigate life at the University.
“Personally, my biases are one thing I’m trying to realize a bit more, and also educating people who I know didn’t have the best upbringing,” Gandhi said. “For example, a lot of my residents who are of color didn’t know how to do the FAFSA when they were applying to college. That’s something I’m trying to help a little bit more with — the things that I learned as a person of color for college management.”
Abdullah stressed the need for students to educate themselves on how their personal actions and words can oppose racism.
“(We should be) educating ourselves, continuously reading, whether that’s becoming more aware of our language and the speech we’re using and how that impacts people, or even what organizations we’re a part of and how we want to continuously make not just personal changes in our lives, but structural changes too in society,” Abdullah said.