Boasted as one of the top universities in the country, with over 1,500 student organizations, the University of Michigan attracts thousands of students each year who are eager to become a part of this student-oriented campus. With so many activities listed in the admissions brochure, ambitious prospects and wonderful opportunities are seemingly at your fingertips. Coming to the University as a freshman, I certainly thought it would be easy to pinpoint cool initiatives and quickly build a strong community where I could find lasting friendships and mentors.
But as a minority at such a competitive university with great disparities between minorities and majorities in the student population, I feel as if there is an added pressure to get to the top. It feels, to me, as if students are driven to join organizations to improve their resume, to stand out and to be the best. I understand this drive; I would be remiss to say that I also didn’t act this way. Who doesn’t want to stand out of the crowd?
The idea of “community” becomes muddled by its ambitious drive, which made it even more difficult for me to feel comfortable and welcomed. I felt like an imposter when attending meetings for clubs, discovering that I was looking for something that wasn’t there. I wasn’t particularly interested or invested in their missions. Especially in a “Zoom world,” I felt there was a disconnect between myself and the already-established communities at the University. Unless I was willing to be more outgoing and forward, I felt there was no point in being involved in such extracurricular activities.
I removed myself from the email lists and left group chats of the larger clubs; since I hadn’t tried to make a presence, I felt my absence wouldn’t be met with too much concern. But I wasn’t able to leave this one smaller club quite as easily. I had gotten involved purely because the name sounded interesting: Elevate, an intersectional feminist organization. Though I flaked on meetings and event planning, somehow, I wound up being given a leadership opportunity to organize a spoken word event. I ended up creating flyers, emailing many clubs and people (some of which I still haven’t received a response from) and, here’s the kicker, emceeing the whole event.
Though I had been planning on leaving this club like so many others, clearly, a higher power had different plans for me. Through this endeavor, I was challenged to start feeling out the depths of the University community. I was pushed beyond my comfort zone, especially since my teammates and I had to contact people we didn’t know and hope for a positive outcome. I had to take a chance and hope that all of our marketing, emailing, texting and posting on social media would yield some fruit. I was so nervous that there would be disappointing turnout. I even tried to postpone the event out of worry.
Our speaker for the event was Dominique Christina, a spoken word artist, author of the famous “Period Poem.” Though we were not in-person, the distance did not take away the impact from her words. Her words were beautiful and impactful, weaving poetic images about her grandmother, her mother and her daughter as well as immortalizing her unique perspective as a Black woman bent on creating radical change and dialogue. The other student speakers only complemented her energy; they discussed divine femininity, their emotions as Muslim Americans post-9/11, loving stories in Spanish and how our ancestors’ memories still flow through our veins.
We did not have a huge turnout, but there was passion in abundance. Each of the speakers was bravely willing to claim their narrative as women in today’s society. They were eager to participate with a community who shared their values, no matter the size or situation. I admired all the speakers and attendees for their resilience and desire to stay connected. I realized that I was given a chance to help create a space for others to discuss and learn from each other. And that this wasn’t something to “flake” on, but rather to appreciate and honor.
In the end, I realized that my frame of mind towards “community” and how to find it was flawed. Idly sitting by, ignoring chances to be involved or letting intimidation bring you down wasn’t going to solve the problem. Community is built when leaders not only encourage you to be involved passionately, but also when you choose to be receptive to the changes and opportunities you are given. In the future, I aim to take full advantage of the opportunities given to me to continue to build my renewed idea of community and ultimately make my mark on this campus.