Monday night marked the kickoff of this year’s Ross School of Business Coming Out Week, a weeklong series at the Business School centered around LGBTQ+ history and overcoming adversity. This year’s theme was “We Find a Way,” inspired by a scene in Hulu’s limited series “Little Fires Everywhere.” The series is based on the book with the same title written by Celeste Ng, a University of Michigan alum.
The event was hosted by Out for Business, the LGBTQ+ student association at Ross. Funds raised by the organization during Coming Out Week will be given to Ozone House, a local youth shelter that works with young people in crisis and strives to prevent suicide in LGTBQ+ teens who are rejected by their families after they come out, according to Scott Ellis, an Ozone House representative. Plucky Comics, a company created by Ross MBA students that aims to educate people about Black queer history through comics, is also a recipient of the funds raised throughout the week.
The event featured Carlos Andrés Gómez, a Colombian-American poet, actor, author and equity and inclusion strategist. Andrés Gómez is the author of several award-winning books and has starred in numerous series and motion pictures including HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, TV One’s Verses & Flow and Inside Man with Denzel Washington, Spike Lee’s No. 1 box office movie.
“It’s weird and wonderful to be in a room with people again,” Andrés Gómez said at the beginning of the event. “I adore Michigan, I feel embraced even when I’m around random people.”
Andrés Gómez spoke about his upbringing in New York City in what he described as a “hyper machismo culture.” He told the audience the only person that understood him and made him feel safe growing up was his grandmother.
“I spent probably my first 13 years alive feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere and I think that’s why I feel a tremendous amount of empathy,” Andrés Gómez said. “I notice when people are not sitting at a table or tucked in a corner. I want to live in a world where we can feel like we belong in the bodies we live in as our genders, as our sexuality or whatever cultural or ethnic or racial identity we are.”
Thomas Krouse, vice president of event planning for Out For Business, the official LGBTQ+ group at the Business School, helped organize Monday’s event. Krouse told The Daily Andrés Gómez was highly recommended by other universities.
“I read his program description and that he speaks about intersectional identities but also the ways that we bring our privilege into rooms, and the way that our privilege can shape a better world,” Krouse said.
Andrés Gómez polled the audience about their experiences with microaggressions, emphasizing his belief that it is not anyone’s responsibility to educate others about issues related to identity.
“My greatest desire for an event like this is to build a world where all people can feel a sense of belonging,” Andrés Gómez said. “I mean if people leave here and think about the world, their identities and other people’s identities in more complex and humane ways, we’ll live in a safer world.”
Andrés Gómez also addressed issues relating to hyper-masculinity. Jackson Pilutti, a first-year graduate student at the Business School, found Andrés Gómez’s stories about masculinity to be particularly important and meaningful.
“Intersectionality is such an interesting conversation and is something that I like to talk about with friends, so I feel like I would love to hear more about the stories behind the poems and more about everyone’s experiences,” Pilutti said. “It was really powerful to hear people share their stories and relate to one another.”
Andrés Gómez described himself as a “deeply flawed work in progress” during the event and discussed his own battle with self image.
“Every ‘ism’ — everything that I’m trying to dismantle in my work, I’m trying to dismantle in myself,” Andrés Gómez said. “Being socialized and living in the world, it’s impossible to not internalize all these cultural and societal messages that have been reinforced for thousands of years.”
Krouse said he was thankful for and humbled by the students who took time out of their schedules to come and participate in the event.
“I’d say that I’m grateful for Carlos for being vulnerable with us and sharing some of his identities with us,” Krouse said. “And I would hope that students have formulated some action steps on how to move forward on their own, diversity, equity and inclusion journey.”
Andrés Gómez ended the event by reiterating the importance of businesses driving social change.
“I’ve done this kind of work in the corporate realm, with Fortune 50 and 500 companies and major brands,” Andrés Gómez said. “I think most people in leadership positions in business recognize that living in a world that is more equitable and inclusive isn’t just the right thing to do, it actually makes businesses operate better. It helps you ultimately make more money, and live in a safer, healthier world.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ozone House and Plucky Comics are sponsors of the Coming Out Week event. Ozone House and Plucky Comics are recipients of the funds raised by Ross Out for Business throughout the weeklong event.
Daily Staff Reporter Jared Dougall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.