We, the new generation of Wolverines. We, the Victors and the Valiant. We, the Leaders and Best. We, make up a group of students of all colors, backgrounds, economic positions, religions and sexual orientations. Including graduate, professional and undergraduate students, there is roughly 45,000 of us. Most of us spend four years or more at the University of Michigan before we go on to our destined careers. During our time here, we face challenges that are often unique to the college experience, and unique to us as individuals. Amid the challenges we all face, we as students have responsibility to look out for our fellow Wolverines and offer a helping hand.  

Beneath the maize and blue we wear, and in the winter, even beneath our Canada Goose parkas, we all face different worlds and come from vastly different places. For a few of us, we face a very different campus climate than what we like. For others of us, we meet people from a different culture than our own. One student can be hoping for money for a flight ticket home for Christmas, while another student may be traveling on a luxury cruise over break. Some individuals may be acutely aware of how our fellow students and professors see us, whether it be how we look, talk or the color of our skin. These inherent differences create a beautiful and knowledge-rich environment; yet they also are the means of challenges in our lives as students.

Being a student in college is a difficulty in itself; however, minorities experience all kinds of challenges unique to them. These include building communities, facing a new culture, financial difficulties and sometimes discrimination. Today, 44 percent of college students in America have at one time reported feeling symptoms of depression. Depression is high among college students, and the statistics are even higher among minorities. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, African-Americans and Mexican-American students face the greatest barriers to receive mental health treatment. As it stands right now, 17 percent of students at the University come from low-income families. About 5 percent of students are first-generation students. As of the fall of 2015, 14 percent of students at the University are nonresident aliens, according to the Office of the Register. In fact, about 5 percent of students on campus are African American, and about 5 percent are Hispanic. Though there is not an exact statistic for the number of LGBTQ students on campus, LGBTQ-identifying people make up about 4 percent of the population in the state of Michigan. These statistics tells us who the minorities we see and talk to on campus every day are.

More often than not, first-generation students are initially on their own when it comes to figuring out the ins and outs of college. Navigating the financial burdens, choosing a major and understanding study techniques are examples of practical knowledge that first-generation students are not simply handed down by their parents. Non-resident aliens face a new world away from home without the benefits that U.S. citizen-students can take for granted. The current political scene makes that clear enough. Students from low-income families at times experience their uniqueness on campus by being unable to afford the daily comforts that other students never question. In the past year, African-American students have felt the spite and hatred of racism through obscene flyers posted around central campus. As a lesbian student myself, I have come to understand the “wear and tear” of finding my way on such a large campus, especially relating to my sexual orientation. The characteristic that make individuals “minorities” are usually sensitive topics and hard to address until a level of comfortability is found with others, and this takes time. I have only mentioned a few challenges; yet, as students, we all face obstacles that are unique to us.

The University has done an extraordinary job of making the campus a welcoming place no matter who you are. At only a 5 percent dropout rate, the University has proven that they will be there for its students. While the University can always do more, we as students can always improve as we come to the aid of our brothers and sisters on campus. We must help each other by offering our hand when we observe the challenges that our fellow students are facing. Many times, we read these kinds of prompts and feel overwhelmed, as though we as individuals are responsible to make change in people’s lives. What we should understand is that change takes teamwork. The answer is simpler. We can make a difference in the lives of whoever is around us at that moment, such as looking out for our friends who we know are short on money. Coming alongside a new transfer student on campus and showing them around. Taking our roommates to a campus medical service if needed. Standing up for each other. Sure, this is a competitive university, but what makes us the “Leaders and the Best” is taking initiative to understand what our peers are going through, and being each other’s support.

Lena Dreves can be reached at ldreves@umich.edu

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