“No matter where you’re from, you belong here.” This is the powerful message with which University of Michigan students are welcomed upon arrival to the Center for the Education of Women (CEW+) website, or the respective building.

The first time I heard of CEW+ was at the end of the winter semester of my junior year, and while unknown to many, CEW+ is an incredible resource available to provide the space and support for advocacy initiatives to grow at the University. After learning more about the program, I took steps to involve myself with other strong and progressive women. This led me to conduct a focus group on women and marginalized communities in STEM departments at U-M with the support and guidance of CEW+. The results of this study will ultimately be incorporated into the COUNTS Toolkit for student success. COUNTS, the Council for Nontraditional Students, is responsible for addressing the importance of a strong community for nontraditional and underserved students at the University which includes, and is not limited to, student parents and caregivers.

COUNTS is an online Canvas module dedicated to increasing awareness about social identities in the classroom and educating University students about the nontraditional student population. CEW+’s upcoming initiative is a Toolkit meant to teach members of the U-M community how to navigate different student identities. By engaging with this Toolkit, University staff are eligible to receive funding in support of any new endeavors or attempts to better support and include nontraditional students in their courses and programs.

CEW+ passionately supports student-led efforts with the goal of improving the campus climate for all identities. The center even offers students the opportunity to apply for funding to implement programs or events geared toward increasing equity for nontraditional student populations. An example of this is the opportunity for U-M undergraduate student organizations to apply for $500 in funding through the Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund. Through the Frances and Sydney Lewis Fund, CEW+ partners with student organizations to bring women leaders to campus. 

From my work as a research assistant to Dr. Tiffany Marra, the director of CEW+, it is clear that CEW+ is committed to creating inclusive, accessible and safe educational spaces for undergraduate women and marginalized community members. Engaging in the classroom and attaining a productive learning experience is crucial to degree completion and student success. CEW+ is a resource that undergraduate students should be well-acquainted with, and the work that is accomplished here is of high impact in the U-M campus community. 

CEW+ works to empower women and underserved students at U-M by serving as an advocate and providing resources to help them reach their academic, financial and professional potential. During my junior year, a close friend of mine informed me that she had received emergency financial assistance from CEW+. Through the CEW+ counseling program, we are able to award Emergency Funds to assist with “unexpected financial emergencies that threaten to derail degree progress.” The intent here is to enable individuals to act independently and take control of their path. By way of workshops and events oriented around promoting leadership, career and personal development, CEW+ generates a safe and uplifting atmosphere for accomplishing goals and solving problems. Dr. Marra recommends that students attend a Midweek Mindfulness sit if they don’t feel comfortable pausing and reflecting on their experiences. Mindfulness meditations are 30 minute events designed to help people practice recentering themselves in the present. CEW+ also leads events and workshops to address the needs of students, including a workshop coming up on Feb. 5 titled, “‘Am I Good Enough?’ Yes, You Are!”, which will focus on self-doubt and impostor syndrome. These are the types of workshops that exist to uplift and motivate students to chase after their ambitions. CEW+ is committed to ensuring that student identities are a positive influence in the path to success at U-M rather than a hindrance or burden. 

Dr. Marra has discussed her passion for working and learning from the U-M community of women and nontraditional students. “Whether it be a student working full-time while taking 15 credits or a student caring for a loved one or a student fighting for the rights of DACA students knowing it may not lead to better results for himself, I am continually amazed by the grit and determination of students as they trail blaze their path through U-M,” said Marra. CEW+ redefines what it is that professional development means to U-M students. Professional development events at CEW+ involve stepping outside of your comfort zone as a component of growth. Taking a risk to be slightly uncomfortable can lead to a greater understanding of something that students may have felt to be unknown or intimidating initially. 

CEW+ is a resource that exists to serve U-M undergraduate students in the form of events, professional development and guidance — and it’s right at the disposal of your fingertips! To the U-M student population identifying with marginalized communities: CEW+ is here to foster that sense of belonging at Michigan and to support you in your educational endeavors. To student allies: take the challenge to diversify your perspectives and better your understanding of social identities on campus during Winter 2020 through CEW+ events and opportunities. Embody what CEW+ represents and ask yourself, what can I do better to support, include and celebrate the diversity of my peers?

Varna Kodoth can be reached at vkodoth@umich.edu.

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