Students contextualize Detroit history at first workshop
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The University of Michigan’s first Detroit Student Service Fusion Workshop began Tuesday and featured lectures, icebreakers and pizza as part of a three-part series to teach students how to interact most efficiently and consciously with the city. The workshops are a pilot program for the University’s Detroit Center.
The majority of the 30 attendees were graduate students from different areas of the University, ranging from the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning to the Ross School of Business. There were also several undergraduates and faculty.
Before the workshop began, event organizer Danyelle Reynolds said she encounters many students through her position at the Ginsberg Center who want to do service in Detroit, but she believes knowledge of a community is important before they engage with it.
“I think it should be a starting point for students to learn about and engage with Detroit,” Reynolds said. “We’re going to touch on some of the history that most students don’t know about. No issue that people are affected by just up and sprouted one day. They’re all the result of a history and of the different relationships that are affecting that community.”
Addell Austin Anderson, the director of the University of Michigan Detroit Center, began the lecture portion of the workshop covering the history of the city. Anderson interwove the story of her own family living in Detroit in the 20th century with the history of the city as a whole, particularly with regards to the housing discrimination of African Americans.
“We were displaced, as were thousands of other African Americans, when they built the highway through Black Bottom,” Anderson said. “You still have problems with restrictive covalence today.”
Anderson said she hopes to encourage student engagement with Detroit and allow an avenue for those already involved to expand their knowledge by contextualizing the city through the more individualized lens of her family.
“We think there’s a lot of resources out there for students who want to be engaged in Detroit and they just don’t know,” Anderson said. “We want to be more proactive in linking students with resources that will help them be more prepared to engage with Detroit.”
The presentation was only a brief overview of the history of the city, beginning with the native people who lived there before colonization and concluding with the modern day. However, many of the participants said they learned new information they hadn’t been exposed to before. The lecture focused equally on the conflict and culture of the city, primarily concentrating on Detroit’s positive narratives.
“You never know, when you’re (lecturing on) the history, because maybe people know this already,” Anderson said. “I was surprised to hear somebody say ‘I didn’t know Detroit’s population peaked in the ‘50s.’ That’s the sort of thing I would like more people to know. I was really encouraged, because that’s the sort of dialogue we wanted people to have.”
Taubman graduate student Srinidhi Venugopal said the lecture was especially informative for her as an out-of-state student.
“It gave me an insight of Detroit, which I didn’t have before,” Venugopal said. “It makes me look at Detroit in a different way. I really enjoyed it; it was really eye-opening.”
The next workshop, which will be on Nov. 11, will incorporate a bus tour of the city and will take place at the Detroit Center. There is also a funding opportunity for projects if students attend the workshops.
Overall, Anderson said the pilot program has gone well so far.
“(Detroit) has a really rich history,” Anderson said. “Some of it is troubled history, but much of it is glorious.”