Multicultural student orgs aim to make new students feel home

Thursday, September 6, 2018 - 8:28pm

Members of the Arab Student Association celebrate Welcome Week at the Trotter Multicultural Center Wednesday.

Members of the Arab Student Association celebrate Welcome Week at the Trotter Multicultural Center Wednesday. Buy this photo
Darby Stipe/Daily

On a predominantly white campus, University of Michigan’s multicultural student organizations often play an critical role in creating communities for minority students. This year, multiple student organizations made strides to create a more inclusive Welcome Week for their new peers.

Students groups such as Black Student Union, the African Student Association, the Caribbean Student Association, Arab Student Association and Assisting Latin@s to Maximize Achievement all held events during this year’s Welcome Week to welcome students back to campus. The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs assisted in a number of events as well. 

While this year’s enrollment report has yet to be released, underrepresented minorities make up 12.8 percent of the undergraduate student body, according to last fall’s figures. 

Students participate in events for Black Welcome Week on the Diag Monday.

Students participate in events for Black Welcome Week on the Diag Monday. Buy this photo
Sarah Kunkel/Daily

The second annual Umoja Festival was one of the many events organized by the Black Welcome Week committee this year. “Umoja” is a Swahili word for unity, and the BSU, African Student Association and the Caribbean Student Association all planned the event. The festival, held on the Diag at the end of last week, served as a way to connect the incoming freshmen with each other and the campus.

Education senior Camyrea Barnes, BSU secretary, said Umoja and other Black Welcome Week events can be crucial programming for incoming students.

“The Black community, when I was a freshman, welcomed me,” she said. “And I wanted to do my job as a senior to welcome the Black community and welcome the freshmen into the community, to let them know that when things go down, when they deal with microaggressions, when they deal with bias incidents that happen to them, or just being a student here — that they know that they have the Black community here to lean on.”

Music, Theatre & Dance freshman Mattie Levy attended Umoja, and expressed her excitement about the SIBS mentorship program and the additional groups she plans on joining after Welcome Week.

“SIBS is support for incoming Black students,” Levy said. “You can sign up to be a big sib or a little sib. So for freshmen, I’m a little sib so you’ll get a mentor ... at the event, they gave us soul food, they had activities and they had a magic show. I’ll probably join the Black Student Union too. That community is going to help you, always have people there for you, always have somewhere to go, someone to call.”

Earlier in the month, Assisting Latin@s to Maximize Achievements held an additional student orientation for their student participants. The orientation was a four-day program through which incoming students were given introductions to faculty and given resources that promote their academic, cultural and emotional wellbeing. 

Last fall, ALMA participants painted messages of Latinx identity and pride on the Rock, only to find racist graffiti plastered over the popular student landmark. Community members repainted the Rock in solidarity the next day, and students began more concereted efforts to organize.

“A year later and the momentum is still growing,” Ford senior Yvonne Navarrete, former La Casa lead director, wrote in a Facebook post this week. “The Latinx community bounced back and hasn’t looked back.”

LSA sophomore Ronnie Alvarez, head of ALMA, shared his excitement about the turnout and meaningful relationships built during the orientation.

“I was very surprised that the participants were able to create very meaningful relationships despite the large group and limited time,” Alvarez said. “They also have expressed that they feel a lot more aware of the resources that are available to them at the University. ALMA is important for this campus because it helps students transition into a space where they are largely underrepresented. ALMA participants become empowered through the workshops centered around their identities and also become much more aware of the resources that the University has to help them succeed.”

The Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and the Arab Student Association also hosted an event called SALAM — Successful Arab Leaders at Michigan. SALAM is a two-day program that aims to introduce incoming Arab students to campus resources, support networks and the Arab community. They met with current students and faculty, and as LSA freshman Hilal Bazzi recounted, the event was important for his social acceptance on campus.

“Coming from Dearborn, we have one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations,” Bazzi said. “Coming to the University of Michigan — it’s a much more diverse population ethnically, racially, and religiously. I thought it was very important to stay true to who you are and be able to connect with others like yourself on campus. So finding this community, connecting with this community, and educating others about your culture and identity I think is so important.”

Public Health junior Nour Eidy, SALAM’s co-organizer, said she believes there are more steps to be taken when planning multicultural events. She thinks programs like SALAM are especially meaningful when building the social and emotional wellbeing of incoming students.  

“I know that we’ve done programs like Arab and Latinx Wolverine Day where we’re trying to show new admitted students all the community has to offer, but we really wanted there to be a follow up to that,” Eidy said. “Now you’re here, what now? Your journey has begun, where’s the community at, where’s that family aspect we were talking about? There’s such value in peer mentorship and when it’s organic, when you have shared identities and similar identities it’s this whole new level of comfort and trust that’s built up.”