Approximately 40 students gathered in the Alumni Center Wednesday night to listen as a diverse cast of panelists — many of them recent University of Michigan graduates — shared their personal experiences and answered questions regarding power dynamics and intersectionality of identities in the workplace.
The event, titled “Navigating the Workplace: Underrepresented and Invisible Identities,” focused on helping undergraduate students navigate the oftentimes complicated process of applying for jobs and internships — yet emphasized how the process can be even more difficult for students who hold various underrepresented identities based on qualifiers such as race, gender and class.
Panelists included Public Policy graduate student Ammara Ansari, who worked as a campaign field organizer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2015; Danny Park, who works as a success coach in the University’s Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives; engineering graduate student Chris Boyd; public health graduate student Micalah Webster; and Public Policy graduate student Angelica De Jesus.
Business sophomore Shartia Ducksworth said she enjoyed the event, and listening to the panelists made her realize she should have started applying for internships earlier. She also noted the diversity of the attendees, especially in regard to the usual makeup of such events.
“I wish that applying to internships was something I started as a freshman,” she said. “I definitely liked how diverse it was. That’s not always the case when you come to events like these.”
Public Policy senior Gloriela Iguina-Colón, undergraduate co-chair of Students of Color in Public Policy and one of the event’s organizers, said she believes students of color on campus need a better support network in terms of applying for jobs and internships.
“We saw a really big need for a support system and network for students of color in a professional development school,” she said. “I had several experiences with different events that are really engaging, but didn’t make the connections with people and couldn’t help me professionally. So I reached out to Ayana, who has been a mentor to me, so Dana and I have been collaborating in planning this panel.”
After securing an internship with The Hill, Iguina-Colón explained how she personally struggled with creating connections because her identity was different from that of anyone else in the office. However, this experience inspired her to return to Ann Arbor and work to create a network for others going through the same experience.
“No one looked like me in the office so creating those bonds was difficult,” she said. “I felt like that wasn’t supported in any way and I felt like it was the first time I was supposed to have to search for a professional network and support system. When I came back I felt like it was super important that people know we will help them get to The Hill, but they have to put in work when they get the internship. It’s not just about what you can add to the internship though –– it’s about what you can add to yourself and your experiences. I feel really happy, and Dana has been amazing through this whole process.”
Rackham student Dayna Asante-Appiah, an intern at the Alumni Scholars program and another event organizers, said her personal experiences navigating the workplace have heavily influenced her in choosing to work in the field of career counseling.
“As a woman of color myself, and as a grad student who desires to work with students in the future, I think it’s important to be able to help students communicate and navigate through these spaces, even though it’s been their experience their whole life. Sometimes coming to college and being one of the only persons of color is a new experience, so I have a real passion for career counseling and have an internship at the career center too,” she said.
Asante-Appiah also emphasized the importance of helping students realize the intrinsic value of their identities, while simultaneously understanding the unfair, but realistic, barriers existing in the workplace due to said identities.
“I think being able to have these conversations with students is important so we don’t ignore different aspects of our identity –– visible or otherwise – and feel confident about what they bring to the table professional,” she said. “But also I want them to know the reality that not everyone is going to understand or look like you and see the value of what you bring.”