The student coalition BAMN, a group devoted to defending minority rights, held its first public forum last night in Angell Hall, inviting minorities from across campus to share their experiences of discrimination.

About 30 students and community members gathered in Auditorium D to hear local high schoolers, current students and University alumni discuss racial, gender and sexual discrimination.

Kate Stenvig, the Michigan Student Assembly presidential candidate for the Defend Affirmative Action Party, started the evening with an introduction.

“We are entering a new phase of history right now, and it’s going to be necessary to change,” she said. “This campus has a real role to play. Anybody who was at any of the celebrations at election night knows that there is a new force in society that contains the excitement of what the possibilities are now.”

Neal Lyons, BAMN organizer and University alum, took the stage next. As an organizer for the coalition, he spoke about how effective these public forums have been at other campuses across the nation, and the need for them to be held here at the University.

“These hearings have been valuable for a number reasons,” he said. “(They make it) completely possible to speak about the truth about racism on our campus.”

Lyons also spoke about his experience with the issues of equality at the University while he was a student.

“My undergraduate career spanned the debate over affirmative action,” he said. “My real education here was the fact that I learned how to fight for equality, something I didn’t learn in the classrooms, but by fighting and by organizing.”

After hearing from several students, Shanta Driver, the national chair of BAMN, came to the podium to discuss her own views on how successful the hearings have been on other campuses.

“I think that this is an extremely important start to have this discussion begin at this university,” she said. “Nothing has been more important than giving these students the right to stand and speak up.”

Driver spoke about the results of a similar meeting at University of California at Berkeley, noting that the student government there was able to file the first legal case to support the challenge to bring down the Michigan constitutional amendment passed in 2006 to ban race- and gender-based affirmative action.

Meshea Richey, who was at the public forum last night, said she was glad she had taken the time to attend the event.

“I’m really glad that I came,” she said. “I think something like this is needed on this campus because people who experience racism can actually speak about it.”

In an interview after the event, Stenvig said the event was successful and was helpful for minority students across campus.

“I think it was a really great diversity of students who came out,” she said. “Tonight we consolidated a group of leaders who want to take this campus forward.”

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