An oral history of MiC

Monday, February 5, 2018 - 8:33pm

The founders of MiC, Rima Fadlallah, Jerusaliem Geb, and Kayla Upadhyaya.

The founders of MiC, Rima Fadlallah, Jerusaliem Geb, and Kayla Upadhyaya. Buy this photo
Courtesy of MiC Founders

 

For Michigan in Color’s fourth anniversary, we sat down with two of our three co-founders — Kayla Upadhyaya and Rima Fadlallah — to discuss their lives after graduation, the challenges they faced and their hopes for the future of the section. Reflecting on their time at MiC, the two were confident in the platform they built. However, they were still excited at all the new updates since their departures. From the “Off the Record” blog to the MiC spiritwear to the new MiC desk on the left side of the newsroom, the section has grown immensely — and so have our founders.

Kayla, now a writer in New York City, never expected to be heavily involved in journalism after leaving college. However, after her experience with MiC, she was able to translate her newfound passions and skills into a successful career in media. She attributed her extensive preparation for the industry to the innovative nature of MiC. Currently, she enjoys a career in pop culture as a TV critic and reporter for Eatery NY.

When we asked Kayla to give some advice she had for people of color entering journalism, she told us it comes down to finding the right mentors. She actively sought ones who shared a social identity with her. As a result, her mentors were able to offer specific advice because they understood her situation. These relationships eventually became so strong that Kayla felt she wouldn’t be in the position she is in today had she not formed and embraced them, so they gave her significant first-hand experiences in navigating difficulties in the workplace.

Rima, on the other hand, participated in the Teach for America Program after graduating in 2014. Outside of work, she also started a blog called The Road To. The goal was simple: to promote positivity and goal setting. The movement started when she used the tag #RoadtoOctober to set a goal to get healthier by her birthday. Others quickly adopted that template, and the brand spread. Rima credited this success — both in teaching and online — to MiC. Her reasoning was because this space allowed her to get to know herself as a writer and develop her identity as a leader in a community of diverse people who all wanted a common goal.

We also asked Rima for advice for people of color entering education (though she is currently applying for MBA programs). She told us that as a leader, “It’s important to learn how to work with people and set aside your anger and ego.” For her, she came to this realization soon after joining TFA.

When she started teaching at a predominantly Black school in Detroit, she saw that the most of her fellow teachers hailed from much more affluent upbringings than their students. As someone who grew up in a predominantly Arab school with white teachers who also didn’t share her life experiences — and therefore had trouble relating to her culture and identity — Rima quickly realized the need for teachers to empathize with their students. She felt her impact would be felt most if she worked within the system and educated her co-workers on approaching people of color and cultural responsiveness. This realization allowed her to impact her workplace because it opened up previously closed lines of communication between her, her co-workers and the students they served.

Before Kayla helped form MiC, she was employed by The Daily as an arts writer. In this capacity, she was able to combine her interest in popular culture with her growing passion for writing. Though she was able to gain valuable experience in the field she’d eventually end up working in, she recognized that The Daily’s work environment was far from perfect. On the other hand, Rima and Jerusaliem (MiC’s third co-founder) were not as involved with the paper before forming the section.

Nevertheless, Rima still felt a similar need to create a more inclusive paper. Kayla, who had already been writing for The Daily for a few years, was focused on how to make existing writers of color more comfortable in the newsroom. Rima and Jerusaliem, however, were more concerned with recruiting students of color. After realizing that both of these goals could be achieved by working together, the three went to Andrew Weiner, the editor-in-chief in 2013.

This meeting with Andrew proved to be the catalyst for the section’s creation. MiC started as a simple column on the opinion page. They didn’t have a desk in the newsroom; they didn’t even have a tab on the homepage. At the time, that didn’t matter. As second-semester seniors, their main concern was building a strong foundation for future editors of the section. However, there were still many events on campus the section covered.

According to Kayla and Rima, the biggest issues MiC covered during her time on The Daily was #UMDivest and #BBUM. At the time in early 2014, #BBUM had gained traction the preceding November, and the debate over divestment began to roil campus. Because of this, MiC was able to serve as a platform for people to share their perspectives on the issue. While before MiC was founded, some groups may not have felt comfortable voicing their opinions in The Daily, Kayla believes that MiC gave these historically underrepresented groups a space on the paper to express their opinions. 

While this led to some unexpected issues — primarily, the editors were criticized for being overly partisan in their coverage of the #UMDivest movement — Kayla, Rima and Jerusaliem’s resolve did not waver. In Kayla’s words, it’s not MiC’s fault that it became political. “People of color often face this criticism, but it’s not our fault that our entire existence has been politicized,” Kayla told us. Additionally, Rima told us that the section had trouble gaining legitimacy in the newsroom. Andrew even believed they wouldn’t be able to find enough content. However, after getting the green light, the pieces started rolling in.

When we asked Kayla and Rima how activism in MiC differs from activism in other spaces, they had similar answers. Kayla told us that, in her mind, there is no difference in the types of activism. “It’s just a different stage of activism,” she said. Though when most people think of activism they envision protests on the street, that’s only the end stage. Before people can take to the streets, they must first address the issues from a personal point of view. Rima largely agreed, “If you look at history, writing has changed so much,” she told us. “You have to realize that writing in itself is resistance.”

Towards the end of our interview, we asked Kayla and Rima what they want MiC’s readers to know. Kayla told us that she wants them to value the diversity within the section and know that one piece doesn’t — and couldn’t — represent the experiences of all members of that group. “It is most beneficial to hold people’s multitudes in mind while reading submissions,” she told us. “As students of color have such a wide range of perspectives and experiences that all contribute to the vibrancy and dynamic of MiC.”

We ended the interview by asking for any advice for current and future editors. Rima went first: “Block out noise as much as you can and always think about what’s best for the space.” Kayla followed with, “Always think as big as possible. So many of the goals from our first year were thought to be unachievable, but you’ve all been able to accomplish so much more than thought possible. Don’t limit yourself or think this is something that won’t happen. Always dream big.”