Michigan podcast interviews alumnae for diversity experiences on campus

Sunday, October 29, 2017 - 8:02pm

Four notable Michigan alumni visited campus on Friday to share their undergraduate experiences with current students and faculty at the Ross School of Business.

The event was hosted by MVisible Voices, an intergenerational podcast series which, through collective storytelling with students, faculty, staff and alumni, highlights the experiences of people not always made vocal at the University of Michigan. The series provides compelling counter-narratives and demonstrates the power of collective struggles for change.

One panelist was Nicole Lamb-Hale, a managing director at Kroll, a consulting firm specializing in risk mitigation, compliance, security and incident response solutions. She was also nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.

Also included were Anita Martinez, community impact director of Stable Families at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, D-NY, who currently is serving her third term.

Lastly, was Fayrouz Saad, first and current director of Detroit’s Office of Immigrant Affair under Mayor Mike Duggan and who has the potential to be the first Muslim woman in Congress. She also has served under the Obama Administration and as the Board Chair for Emgage- USA MI.

The panelists were asked a variety of questions, some of which required deep personal reflection on their experiences at the University and how those situations shaped them into the women they are today.

“What was always most comfortable was being surrounded by people of your own culture like when you’re eating the food of your culture, telling stories, dances and the language,” Meng said. “We grew up, I did at least, embarrassed about my culture and what other people would think of me if they did smell my food or if they did see the dances from my culture.”

Meng further explained her perception of her identity changed when she attended a cultural show on campus, which brought together different cultures while highlighting different aspects of various customs and traditions.

“It was liberating for me because I felt for the first time someone outside of my community actually cared and appreciated my culture,” Meng said.  “It was a great start for me being able to share my culture without feeling like I had to be embarrassed by it.”

Race also played a role in Martinez’s experience on campus, specifically when a verdict was reached on the O.J. Simpson case in 1995.

“There were mixed emotions about the verdict,” Martinez said. “I remember walking through campus, and it felt like a daze because you definitely saw who was in favor or who was opposed to the announcement. It was more eye opening for me because growing up in a very diverse community it wasn’t as apparent to me that people felt differently about race.

“I just thought we all lived in this cohesive community, but that day, I began to look at the world a little bit differently because I felt that others didn’t look at me in the same way,” Martinez said. “It was more of reaffirmation that my unique voice and perspective and having those difficult conversations sometimes are necessary for us to begin to understand one another and to move towards a better place.” 

Learning of their experiences and how they were able to overcome adversity served as an inspiration to students, especially LSA senior Breanna Sullivan.

“Being a woman, especially a Black woman, is difficult in today’s age and time,” Sullivan said. “But to hear their perspectives and how well they are succeeding within their fields is motivating, even if we do come from different backgrounds ... If they can do it, I know I can too.”