Design challenge encourages students to build an anti-racist future

Thursday, December 3, 2020 - 1:26pm

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Illustration by Man Lam Cheng

Summer 2020 saw the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement across the U.S. after George Floyd’s death. Washtenaw County was no exception, and University of Michigan students partook in protests all over the country. In light of these events, many students sought more direct ways to make an impact.

For Mintu Joy, a graduate student at U-M Dearborn, an email about the Envisioning an Anti-Racist World Design Challenge presents the right opportunity to enact change.

“I didn’t have a second thought,” Joy said. “I was thinking, as a student, I don’t have the money to support any of these causes, neither the position or power. I was feeling very helpless about how I could make a contribution to these types of movements. … This is the right platform; this is the right cause to contribute.” 

The challenge encourages students to research and collaborate on ways to create an anti-racist future, with teams using diversity, equity and inclusion principles to guide them.

Ryan Henyard, faculty experience designer at the Center for Academic Innovation, said the challenge arose out of separate efforts seeking to support student advocates. The challenge is a collaboration between the Center for Socially Engaged Design, the President’s Arts Initiative, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Center for Academic innovation. Digital Studies professor Lisa Nakamura and English Language and Literature professor Sara Blair also worked on the project.

The challenge is open until Dec. 11 for graduate and undergraduate students from all academic units and satellite campuses. 

Unlike traditional design challenges or hackathons where the final delivery is focused on a specific academic field, Henyard highlighted the challenge’s unrestricted nature by encouraging students to express themselves in any discipline and medium. Extended reality or virtual reality, visual narratives or performances are among the types of projects accepted. 

Henyard said the challenge encourages participants to build on experiences many had protesting for racial justice over the summer.

“A lot of them were on the streets protesting, and that experience is valuable and applicable to all these different fields that they’re in and also to the problems at hand now,” Henyard said. “They don’t need to wait for some nebulous time where they’ve ‘grown up’ to be making change. They could be doing it right now.”

Alison Rivett, interim managing director of the President’s Arts Initiative, said she noticed the events of the summer seep into class discussion. By organizing the challenge as a semester-long project, she said she hoped it would provide student teams with structure while allowing them to take their experiences beyond the classroom.

“We’re all sitting behind these computer screens wondering, ‘What can we do?’” Rivett said. “It felt like this way, the challenge is something that’s active and focused on continuing the conversations in a more direct way than what would be available through classes.”

Information graduate student Katherine Phillips said she wants to look at health care disparities among races or examine racial biases in the hiring process.

“How and where do you even start with something of this magnitude and still remain realistic?” Phillips said. “These topics are important to me because not only do they directly affect me, they affect those I care about, such as family and friends.”

Daily Staff Reporter Francesca Duong can be reached at fduong@umich.edu

 

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