Four representatives from the University of Michigan community discussed social justice issues on campus with an emphasis on feminism and multiculturalism a panel Tuesday night.
Panelists for the event, hosted by student organization Lean In University of Michigan were chosen for their unique views on diversity, according to organizers. The group is tied to a nationwide nonprofit of the same name, which aims to increase dialogue around gender equity. The panel was attended by about 100 University of Michigan students, faculty and staff.
Business junior Kelsey Hayes, one of two Lean In co-directors of internal operations, said Lean In focuses on various forms of diversity because these movements are intertwined with each other.
“Lean In is all about bringing diverse perspectives to tell a story about how we can all achieve a more equal world,” she said. “So that’s why we’re really excited about multiculturalism and diversity because you recognize that these issues are intersectional, and we have to work together to solve them.”
When asked about the importance of diversity on campus, Virginia Lozano, an alum of the School of Art & Design, warned against simply increasing percentages, stressing the need for integration. She and her sister, Beatriz Lozano, are co-founders of Leesta, an online platform that teaches history to elementary school children through the perspective of women. Virginia Lozano is also a former Michigan Daily photographer.
“It’s easy to get caught up in numbers,” she said. “But who’s to say that someone in the class actually feel like they’re part of the entire campus? And I think it’s the inclusion part of diversity that needs to be focused on.”
The panelists were also asked to define political correctness and discuss their position on it. Art & Design senior Beatriz Lozano said political correctness is not asking too much of the public, adding that those who reject political correctness are behaving selfishly.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people are more concentrated about being called racist, being called sexist or giving off a bad image than they are about really hurting somebody,” she said.
Speaking to instances of racism and sexism, School of Education Prof. Debi Khasnabis discussed the significance of identity, saying it formed much of her path in life. Recounting her experience as one of the very few minorities in her elementary school, she said she was bullied for her skin color but found comfort on the weekends in her Indian immigrant community. Relating her experiences to the University, she emphasized the importance of locating marginalized individuals in the classroom.
“Who’s not feeling like they belong here?” Khasnabis asked. “Who’s feeling marginalized? Who’s feeling left out? Who’s feeling unheard? Who’s feeling voiceless? And in any space you go, and I guarantee you, someone feels that way, always. And it’s up to us, it’s up to the people who feel they belong, that they have some power and privilege in that space, to try to do something about it.”
Dennis Hayes, a resident of Allen Park, Mich., said he found Khasnabis’ life story most memorable, for he was always the majority.
“(Khasnabis’ experience is) a very scary thought, when you think about it,” he said. “It’s hard for us to understand, but it was telling that she gave that story and see how she’s moved in her professional development away from that and helping people to overcome what she had to endure herself.”
Scott Page, a professor of complex systems, political science and economics, touched on marginalization and the challenges students often face through cultural differences, pointing to his family’s experience while living in France.
“Anytime two kids saw each other, they would rub hands like this and bump fists,” he said. “This is for any kid regardless of social class. There’s a strong sense of inclusion and community.”
He said these experiences in France caused him to realize there is a significant difference in awareness of privilege between the United States and France.
Education junior Samantha Suh said the panelists’ advice to place oneself in groups with different people resonated with her, adding that her experiences as an active member of the Asian American community helped her form opinions similar to those of the panelists.
“Real change can happen when you cross communities,” she said. “When you push yourself into communities that you don’t feel comfortable in, that is where most of the learning is going to happen.”
Business junior Sushmita Mukherjee, Lean In’s other co-director of internal operations, emphasized that the event could teach people that change happens one person at a time.
“Lean In is all about empowering individuals, and a lot of the time because these institutionalized structures that give rise to sexism, racism, classism … you feel very helpless. But this conversation is aimed to say that, ‘Hey, even though sometimes these things are institutionalized, you can do something about it,’ ” she said.