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From athletes to coaches, businesses to parents and on and on, it seems like almost every person nowadays has a podcast. 

Under the direction of Michigan Director of Social Media Nikki Sunstrum, UMSocial — the team that leads the University’s social media strategy — has hosted many different podcasts over the years.

In June, amid the social uprisings that emerged in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Sunstrum decided that the UMSocial should give a platform to students’ voices. A new podcast, called “Conversations for Change,” was born.

“We really started to think strategically about how we can also give our megaphone to students to have really engaging dialogues and also the freedom to explore critical conversations,” Sunstrum said. “There (are) only so many things that the students want to hear the brand necessarily say. But I know I have this really big platform and I love to share it with students, staff, or faculty or even our leadership.”

Sunstrum employs six student interns at a time in order to educate them about leveraging brands and strategically adding value through content. 

These students come from all majors across the University. One of those interns — Michigan junior Cam Turner — is double-majoring in organizational psychology and sociology.

He joined the team in the fall and hit the ground running. In anticipation of and Black History Month, Turner began interviewing Black individuals on campus — most recently speaking with men’s basketball senior forward Isaiah Livers and track and field freshman sprinter Ziyah Holman

“Initially going into this month as a whole, we just wanted to elevate Black voices, Black students on campus,” Turner said. “Obviously going to a huge sports school like we do, athletes are kind of the upper-echelon of student here, so finding those voices who people can already look up to but can also give light on our community was huge for us.”

The conversation with Livers served as not only a reflection of his time at Michigan but — sticking with the theme of the series — a discussion on social justice. 

“With everything that’s going on, I just wanted to be that voice, let other athletes know that it’s okay to speak up,” Livers said in the podcast. 

Turner’s conversation with Holman also followed a similar pattern, as she expressed her desires for a more equal and united society. 

These tough topics did not phase Turner. In fact, they were quite natural for him. 

“It’s just really casual conversations: student-to-student, sometimes student-to-faculty,” Turner said. “It’s just me being real with people. In this time especially, people just want to hear real stuff, people are sick of the PR, the flashy this-that, and people want raw stuff so that’s what we’re giving them.” 

Sunstrum and Turner felt like it was important to tap into the student-athlete community and provide a more accessible platform to speak about things other than sports. 

Turner emphasized the importance of highlighting the student part of Livers and Holman. He wanted to give them an opportunity to speak on things that reporters would not usually care about. 

“Oftentimes (Livers) gets asked, ‘You had this shot with three seconds left blah blah blah?’ but not like ‘How’s your classes? What’s it like being a Black student at Michigan? What’s it like being in this classroom?’ ” Turner said.

Turner believes that this is what draws student-athletes to open up with him and that it makes for a more engaging and genuine conversation. 

Since the podcast is run by the University, one of the biggest challenges of the series is to balance maintaining the University’s voice, while also being as personable and relatable to listeners as possible. 

Turner doesn’t agree with every position the University holds, for example, and finds himself sometimes having to separate his work from his beliefs. Turner and Sunstrum bantered about “butting heads,” but it is something they think about on a daily basis. However, they always center back to thinking about why they are doing it. 

“We do all of these things where we — again — give our microphone to the student community to make more relatable content and that’s really how we’re able to make that impact,” Sunstrum said. “As (Turner) started to say, we know our limitations and we’re better if we do it together and think together.”

It is an important balance that Sunstrum and her interns will continue to work through. But, one thing they can agree on is that the conversations they’ve been able to host are accomplishing their goal. 

“I want to be the vessel for other students’ voices,” Turner said. “Because of the platform that (Sunstrum) and UMSocial have been giving me, I have the opportunity to help other students’ voices be lifted. This isn’t about me, this is about the person that I’m interviewing.” 

Added Sunstrum: “It sort of levels the playing field so we can find that unity and be on the same page and walk away smarter, better and more informed of what each other thinks and what each other feels.”

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