About 20 students participated in an anti-racism teach-in held on Saturday evening in the Michigan Union. Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs office organized the event, which was led by MESA Associate Director Krishna Han.
Han said he chose to call the event a teach-in versus a training because he believes the former definition more accurately conveys a sense of dialogue. In addition, he said he was inspired by the fact that the first teach-in in the U.S. was held at the University of Michigan in 1965.
“For me, coming from Cambodia, when I learned English, training always seemed linear and being pulled by somebody powerful,” Han said. “This event isn’t about linearity or being pulled, it is about sharing and storytelling. It’s about hearing different perspectives.”
The event started with a round of introductions by the students and a discussion about what racism meant to each of them. Students responded with a variety of answers, touching on themes such as prejudice, discrimination, inequality and the effect of status on power and oppression.
LSA freshman Natalie Smith said she believes racism is intrinsic in the way history is taught in the U.S.
“When teaching history, particularly the accomplishments of past people, a lot of people tend to focus on the accomplishments of white people or whoever wasn’t marginalized at that time,” Smith said. “The accomplishments of minorities are kind of castaway or put on second show.”
Han also spoke about the cycle of oppression and its stages, which he explained begins with stereotypes and worsens to prejudice, discrimination, oppression and internalized oppression. After deliberation, the group agreed that it is easiest to battle racism at the first stage of stereotyping.
According to Han, stereotypes are messages children record in their childhood.
“We all receive different kinds of messages about all groups of people,” Han said. “Those messages can be received from many sources: school, parents, church, radio, TV, people you associate with. And as we grow up, these messages are buried by awareness and other things, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.”
LSA freshman Chantal Uzoma said the lack of initiative to rectify the Flint water crisis is a blatant form of racism.
“The situation in Flint — I feel like it’s environmental racism,” Uzoma said. “If something like this were to happen in any other community it would be addressed, but because it is happening in a Black community, it is being ignored.”
LSA sophomore Jenny Dang said she sees racism in incidents of police brutality.
“Something I think about a lot is police brutality, like police picking and choosing who they pull over even if they don’t have a reason to target that person,” Dang said. “I feel like they very much target African American people doing regular things that everyone else is doing.”
The group collectively decided all of them had a lot to learn. They also discussed ways to engage with the community and how to get involved in creating anti-racism awareness.