Women of Color

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Women of Color Portraits

I interviewed and photographed 30 women of color from the University of Michigan for my independent senior thesis project. This project was created in response to the lack of representation of women of color at the university. The interviews are about identity, sexuality, race, gender, and campus experiences.

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Alexis

One of the reasons why I picked U of M is because it was one of the few really good schools that had a more diverse student body than where I was coming from.  That being said, U of M can do a much better job of inclusion.  It would be nice to walk around on campus and see more people who look like me.  It would be comforting to walk into a classroom unquestioned.  It would be empowering to feel supported in all of my endeavors here on campus.

I have had a multitude of experiences here…good, bad, and in-between.  They have all informed who I have become as a person.  I believe that people are constantly growing, evolving, and learning throughout their lives.  However, there are key moments in which you really “come into yourself.”  U of M has been a moment for me.  Coming into yourself is about self-reflecting.  It’s about finding a balance between who you are and what your environment may require of you.  It’s about navigating through many spaces…both positive and negative.  It’s about being confident in your skin, your identity, and your “being.”

Love yourself…live your truth…

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Angela

Being on campus has been great because I have been able to connect with women mentally, spiritually and emotionally who have helped me with my healing process. It wasn’t until I got into my masters program that I found a collective of people that I could really lean on and support each other. The women have helped a lot. I was introduced to the Michigan Women of Color Collective and met a lot of women on their self-healing journey. From seeing them being unapologetically themselves, they challenged me to look internally a lot more, to be honest with myself, and see the beauty in being unapologetic. Last year January, I had a day where I cried from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. that happened because a favorite aunt of mine had passed and I was forced to mourn her death in class. Then my friendship with my best friend of fifteen years ended right after that class let out. Then a relationship with a guy that I was dating at the time ended that night as well. The next day I reached out to a couple of individuals about my situation. Based on the people who responded, showed me whom I could lean on. They are still here today. They reassured me during that time, supported me during that time, and provided spaces for me to grow and heal since then.

Being on campus has not always been great. In undergrad I experienced some blatant racism. One night, my friends and I were walking down South University and this guy stretched his head out of his window and yelled, “black bitch”. It was baffling the hate that could exist at a self-proclaimed liberal institution. It was also the year Obama was elected to office so there was a lot of racial stuff going on campus in response to his election and the excitement that came with it. People were writing racial slurs on other’s doors. I buffered myself by being fully entrenched in the black community. In my masters program, my frustration came with the self-proclaimed liberalism that was actually coded in language that shared the same racist beliefs that existed in larger society. I found myself baffled in my teaching program by the people who could not reflect on the racial biases they had. Those biases came out in how they interacted with people around them, including students. These people are in education reform and will be going into primarily black and brown areas, where reform is experimented with. I became scared for our children as I sat across from those who were supposed to save them.

I love and I can’t say I have always loved this but I love my melanin and I love my bluntness. Being a darker skinned woman, I was not taught that my complexion is something to be proud of, so coming into that has been a beautiful, yet difficult, process. I am not good at innuendoes and euphemisms and I am pretty straightforward. I am working on ensuring that my honesty is supported by love and goodness and that my voice is true to who I am. I found myself stifling myself for other people around me while not realizing how that was suffocating me simultaneously. I credit coming into myself to an ex best friend of mine. She was someone I could express frustrations about my melanin, among other things, when I knew no other way to deal with it. As I have gotten older I have learned the power, necessity and beauty of melanin.

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Azba

I am a very open minded person and very much believe in live and let live. I try really hard not to judge other people and let them do their own thing. I don’t think there is any point in worrying about what other people are doing or what they are going to think about what you’re doing. My freshman year I thought I was pre-med and one reason I dropped it is because the culture around it was ‘what is this person and that person doing’. Not everyone is like that but there is a sense of constantly competing with each other and being better than each other. Everyone is different and on a different path and you can’t keep comparing yourself to somebody else even if you are going for the same goal. I have a big document of quotes I like to go through and read sometimes. One of my favorites is, “a flower never competes with the flower next to it, it just blooms.”

Since I’ve been here, I’ve become more away of my identities partly because of the classes I’ve taken. Before I always liked being Indian and never questioned why I am Indian. Now I love being Indian and love my heritage. I am really proud of who I am. I’m not going to hide it if that is what somebody else wants. I am more comfortable in saying I am a South Asian woman and also understanding what that means.

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Betelhem

I tell myself not to be afraid so much. A lot of times in life you are faced with different choices and different solutions and worrying about them doesn’t solve anything. You just have to trust yourself in everything that you do and somehow, someway everything will be fine. For example, in class I often feel hesitant to answer questions. I’m engaged in the class discussion, but I don’t say anything. I don’t want to say something that would make people think something of me that isn’t true. People like to take your opinions and what you say very literally and try to label you and judge you for it. I was especially worried about this during my first semester of college because people were meeting me for the first time. Sometimes I have to actually tell myself that I should interact and speak up because I have good ideas and should share them. There is no reason to be afraid. I think it’s really important to be an active participant, which is why I’m working on that. My mentality is to not get caught up in that cloud of negativity and just continue to be optimistic.

When I try to tell people how to say my name they always have trouble pronouncing it properly. In elementary school, I changed schools and I remember my new classmates had a difficult time with it. My name came out differently with an American accent, so I kind of just adopted that as the pronunciation of my name to make it easier. Only my Ethiopian family and friends can pronounce it the way it was originally supposed to sound. I know some people would be offended if something like that happened to them, but I embrace it as who I am now because that’s the way it’s been for me since I was nine years old.

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Carlina

Creative writing is refreshing because it has allowed me to claim a sense of independence in my movement through the world. When I was younger I was a visual person. I loved walking around and noticing little ladybugs touching grass or a can of pop smashed on the floor. It was almost like there was a suitcase in my head and I would rummage through thinking of the visual things that stuck with me from that day. Writing has become a way for me to preserve the beautiful things that I found throughout the day. In college it has become not just the gorgeous things I want to save but the rage, anger, and unjust things I find, too. Writing teaches me to look harder at the world and pay more attention and carve out space for myself and forge connections in that way.

English was not my first language. For me, the way I looked at poetry and experimenting with language has come from English not having been my first language and almost being allowed to play with it more and splash around in it and feel how the words sounded on my tongue when I was younger. I am a daughter of immigrant parents who don’t speak English. Coming to U of M I had never written about racial identity or my heritage and I started to. I think part of it was being in English classes and being the only Chinese American or being in Asian studies classes and learning about foot binding and realizing that my grandma had her feet bound and learning about that from a textbook and not from my grandma in person. All of these personal connections started to happen and fuse together. My poetry recently has been about Chinese American identity. It has been reflective about early childhood and now realizing how my identity is linked to being a Chinese American girl growing up in the U.S. My identity has shaped my writing and my writing has shaped my identity.

So much of my writing is about personal memories. I write to understand and also to ask questions. For me I look at writing a poem as solving a puzzle. I was a sophomore in college when I first learned the term ‘person of color’. I think speaking about race can be very difficult. There is so much language around it that doesn’t feel accessible sometimes. I felt locked out of that conversation. That’s my hesitation about social activism because I think of people who are not able to speak in those terms. At times, I don’t really know how to talk about things without writing poems about them.

I love that I have a great capacity. When I feel joy it seeps up and when I am sad it is all consuming. I used to hate that about myself and how my heart would get so bossy and I would be hung up in situations. Whenever I would be somewhere it would be my emotions owning me but lately it has been such a blessing to feel so deeply and walk around the world. I do think that I am lucky to be in love with the world in that way and feel intensely about things.

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Chelsea

I’ve lived here my whole life. Ann Arbor is such a diverse community. I like that aspect because I grew up in a place where it was more typical to be accepting than to not be. I took that for granted a lot; people say Ann Arbor is five square miles surrounded by reality. But I like that I grew up in this little bubble and that there are people you can have social justice dialogues with. It’s a lot more inclusive. People are aware of other people’s identities. I learned that earlier than people in other places might have. Though, there have been times where surprising stuff has happened. Our neighborhood has become increasingly Asian; there are a lot of Chinese families who live in the neighborhood. One time someone spray-painted the neighborhood sign as “China Town”. A couple years ago someone toilet papered my neighbor’s house and wrote in toilet paper on their driveway “Chink.” It was shocking but it shows that kind of stuff happens everywhere.

Identifying as a feminist is something that has happened in the past year. It’s not about having completely equal treatment but equal opportunity. Also, part of calling myself a feminist is seeing how gender norms harm everyone. Being a woman on a University campus, I have to think of things in terms of being a feminist. I have also come to understand my ethnic identity more these past few years. I am different than many other Asian Americans because my parents are from two different places. My mom is from Singapore and my dad is from the Philippines. There are a lot of things I can relate to with other Asian Americans, but not always. [Visiting Singapore and] seeing where my mom came from and meeting family helped me change how I can talk about my ethnic identity. Identifying my family as really important to me has become a big part of my value system. For me my family is my number one priority and sometimes my friends don’t relate to that.

It is something I have learned over time, but I have learned to be aware that I may not always know why someone is the way they are. It is important to be inclusive of that but also understand that people are accountable for their actions.

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Claudia

There are a lot of great universities but I don’t know if there is one with this great of people around. My friends make it feel like home. They will take me in during Thanksgiving and Easter and treat me as part of the family. Before I came here all my swimming team heard from the coach was there is a girl from Hong Kong coming. I never did an official visit so my team didn’t know me. They were worried about if I spoke English and if I would blend in. Everyone ended up being very welcoming and we became good friends. Also, Being here for four years and living outside of home gave me the opportunity to discover myself, learn about myself more, and figure out what’s important and what’s not. It’s okay to be different and to have different thoughts over certain issues than my parents or friends. We can all openly talk about them and no one will feel offended. I learned a lot from hearing different sides of issues. In the end we are all friends even if we have different opinions.

Sometimes being in the business school there is a lot of forced networking. I love getting to know people but personally I don’t get to know people for their benefits. When I get to know people I really want to get to know them and be friends. Whenever someone does a favor for me I feel an obligation to give back. I network with all of these wealthy people who could give me a job or connections and I’m just a small potato and what could I give back at this point? Maybe eventually I could give back but the concept itself is just weird to me. I would love to be able to give back but when you’re the one being helped it is kind of weird and awkward.

When I go to class I try not to dress like an athlete and people will not know by the way I dress and conduct myself. Being an athlete is hard. Its really time consuming but I get a lot out of it. If I want to hang out with friends and have great academics the only way to do it is to do everything efficiently. Being an athlete forced me into the mindset to be efficient and finish work ahead of time. Of course there are still athlete stereotypes of free riding on group projects or missing group meetings. As people get to know me or other athletes the stereotypes go away. If I miss a meeting I still do work online and communicate with my group and always contribute. A lot of people have the misunderstanding that athletes have really bad grades, which is not true, at least not for my sport. When I tell people my schedule they realize how much we do and really appreciate us.

I am really good at pushing through stuff and hiding my emotions away from people. It’s good and bad. If I am having a really down day or really stressed out when I am in front of people I try not to show it because it will affect others. They don’t need to get my stress. My day might be ruined but I shouldn’t ruin someone else’s day. I really like that I can stay up really late and push through projects. I use every second to finish up projects and I’m thankful I can push through practice or schoolwork.

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Cosette

My identity has changed a lot. I didn’t identify a lot with my culture coming into Michigan. I am Chaldean, so my family is part of a smaller ethnic group from Iraq. I was raised around my extended family but my friends growing up were never Chaldean besides a few I was cool with. I didn’t have positive ideas about what it was to be Chaldean. I went to an all girls’ high school so my baby feminism was just coming up when I got to college through sophomore year of college. It wasn’t quite white feminism but it was close. In the past year and a half I’ve progressed a lot and I’ve become more comfortable identifying with my culture. I think that’s a common progression for young women, especially young women of color, of passing through a white feminist phase first. I wonder if I have a daughter if she’ll get to women of color feminism or intersectional feminism immediately because of how I would raise her.

After sophomore year I did a program in Detroit where we were trained as doulas. We attended births in a hospital as on-call doulas. I realized at that point how much I loved birth and how few doulas are people of color. It would be great if every woman of color had doula to support her. I think it would improve birth outcomes, because they tend to have worse health outcomes than white women because of their social location and the things that come out of being a woman of color in our society. That’s how I became interested in becoming a doula. Certain communities distrust the medical establishment a lot because of histories of abuse and mistreatment by doctors. The distrust is very real and it impacts how providers treat patients and how patients perceive the way health care providers treat them. That important dynamic can be positively impacted by the presence of a doula. None of the moms spoke English at the births I attended. When the doctor or midwife was in the room they were silent and nervous about questioning anything the health care provider said. I don’t speak perfect Spanish and am not qualified to translate in a medical environment but I was the translator in that situation. Once the doctor left the room the mom would ask me everything and laugh with me until the doctor came back in. But because they didn’t speak English and weren’t white, it didn’t seem as though they were getting the same amount of attention that a white mom would’ve gotten. I was really upset with the level of care at that hospital. I now want to become an OB/GYN and be an abortion provider. There aren’t many places where midwives are able to perform abortions.

Something that I love about myself is that I care a lot for people in a quieter way. It is something I have come to appreciate about myself. I don’t think it’s always apparent to people how much I care about them or about certain issues, but then later they will be like “you didn’t tell me all that stuff.” It’s a strength and a weakness. People might think that I’m apathetic when I just tend to keep things to myself. But because I’m quieter about certain things, I’m able t observe everything better and watch over people in a way that I couldn’t if I was more vocal. Women are especially important to me, and I really value my own identity as a woman. I think my general goal is to just be this matriarch figure that everyone can come to.

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Ebere

Being in Ann Arbor is still the suburbs but there is a city feel to it. There is enough to do but it is not overly crowded. I really like the people I’ve met on campus and the friendships I’ve made that will be sustainable forces for the rest of my life.

A lot of people here try to be more conscious than they actually are. It’s definitely a city of white people who do yoga, wear dreads, and appropriate everyone’s culture. It’s really frustrating because college has been a time for me to get to know myself and explore my own identities. To see people appropriate those things, misrepresent them, and steal them is infuriating. I guess this is something we are all talking about at the moment, but the racial dynamics on this campus are seriously problematic. It’s been interesting for me because I came from an all white high school so coming here, there was definitely more diversity than I was used to. That being said, I agree that this campus is not as diverse as the university claims it to be.  There is still so much that needs to be addressed regarding diversity and what it actually means and looks like for this university. How committed are they to it? Sometimes, it’s hard being a Diversity Peer Educator and trying to discuss diversity, not as this pseudo ‘we need to all come together’ idea; I want to be more critical about it.

I am more aware of how my identities are evolving. I’m in a place where they are constantly shifting, shaping, and becoming more dynamic. Sexuality, for example, was always assumed, and now I’m given more space to explore it. It’s also been a beautiful experience understanding the intersections of my race and gender as a black woman.  I think about those aspects of my identity the most. I started to think about what social justice meant and what it looked like when a white frat threw a hood rat themed party my freshmen.  Through my women studies major I’ve learned about intersectionality and what that means for me specifically in understanding my identities.

If I had to give my younger self advice, I would tell myself that I don’t need to seek outside validation and that I can validate myself.  This is something that I’m continually reminding myself even today- that I can validate my decisions and my beliefs. In small ways I find myself seeking other people’s validation. Once someone says that they like something or that they do something, I find myself unconsciously letting that serve as validation for me to do the same, and it’s frustrating. But I am gentle with myself and I know it’s a process. I’m working to seek and prioritize inward validation. If I had to describe myself, I think that I have a really caring spirit and enter into things with best intentions especially for the people I love. I try to always think about how I can help them grow and support them. And I think I do a good job of meeting people where they are. If I say that I want myself to feel self-validated, then I also want to support people in that same process. I try to do things that make people comfortable in making their own decisions and comfortable in being who they are.

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Emily

One of the most important things I would tell my younger self is that you don’t have to feel like you are living to please other people. You don’t have to live up to cultural expectations of how you should look, feel, or behave. When I was younger, I had so many deep-rooted insecurities that became really detrimental to my well-being; I think that the one thing that I struggled with most was feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I would tell my younger self that no matter what society tries to tell you, you are unique, you are special, and above all, you are worthy.

Over the past few years, I’ve realized more and more how messed up the world really is, and how much racism, sexism, and other social inequalities still exist. When I entered college, I was able to take classes that further opened my eyes to these issues. My freshman year, I found SAPAC, and in it, a community of people who were similarly passionate about social justice and social change. The person I am now is so much more informed about how everything is more complicated than it appears on the surface. We have to be critical and not just accept things the way they are–I feel like everyone has an obligation to be part of the change.

It is the most satisfying thing to see the subtle signs of growth in other people. It’s almost like seeing the gears turning in someone’s head. Once you plant the seeds, once you start the conversation, they start seeing the world in a different light, consciously or not. I remember having heated arguments with my dad about feminism. It was really frustrating at the time, but one day he called me and said out of the blue, “Did you know that only 4% of fortune 500 CEOs are women?”. It’s cool when you talk to people who are close to you because that’s when you can really see the tangible impact you’re making.

I love my ability to be assertive and speak my mind. I’ve had to develop that confidence over time, but I’m no longer afraid to speak up about the things that I am passionate about. That is one thing that I like about myself. My freshman year I met a lot of new people in my hall. It’s hard when you are hanging out with new people and you want to be careful not to say anything that might turn them away or risk your friendship. One day, someone made a rape joke…and that’s kind of when I forgot about all of those boundaries, and I was like, “Hey, that’s not okay.” Over time, they stopped saying those things, and I don’t know if it was just around me or in general, but now they’re one of the new volunteers at SAPAC so I think that’s pretty cool.

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Harleen

I would tell myself not to be so hard on myself and have more faith in myself and abilities and everything will work out. Coming in freshman year, I told myself I had to be pre-med and it wasn’t until junior year that I figured what I want to do. I think I knew sophomore year of high school that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I really wanted to do vocal performance, and after I got in, my parents said they didn’t think it was a good idea. English has always been a subject I enjoy. But I still have to dig to get a variety of courses. There have been moments where I think our literature should be more diverse. A lot of times comments said in class would reflect current issues. Like some white kid would say something about black kids in the Bronx, or being the only Indian kid in class and listening to white people talk about how they perceived India.

I feel like I have learned about the way I handle situations. College was hard for me in ways that I didn’t expect. I have learned about what my faith means to me and the kind of work I need to do. Growing up, school was never something that was challenging. I am still trying to figure out what it was. I didn’t realize how much I relied on my family growing up. Being away from that showed me what a big support system it was for me and it has made be a stronger person but it is difficult. Sikh Student Association is really important to me. I love helping people find their place partly because I had a hard time finding mine.

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Haya

When I came to college, everything felt off. I had all these expectation about this grand adventure but I somehow neglected to account for the homesickness, anxiety, and my non-existent sense of direction. I think I got lost at least twenty times my first month. Asking for directions gave me anxiety, so I ended up standing in the same spot trying to use Google maps. I felt like I made an awful mistake but I wasn’t willing to admit it to my parents after fighting so hard to study abroad.

Coming to the U.S was weird in different ways. Everybody expects you to have a culture shock but I didn’t. I had grown up consuming American pop culture. I understood references, I barely had an accent, and I tried to skate by undetected. But then certain things became really hard to ignore. The more I settled, the more I realized the inequality. Racism is a thing, islamophobia is a thing, and they were things that I began to encounter weekly on campus.

For me, the culture shock didn’t have to do with the ‘pop’ vest ‘soda’ debate, or the language, or the obsession with football. My culture shock was relearning how to present myself, to hyper aware of my mannerisms. I became representative of groups bigger than myself. The ‘other’ is an incredibly uncomfortable label. You have to explain everything about yourself and what you believe, and even then, people tend to dismiss you. They’re only receptive to information when it reinforces their position.

I’ve always wanted to be a professor but the closer I get to graduation the more jaded I become. Yet, I still find myself gravitating towards academia. I think it has to do with authority. I don’t want there to be a conversation about my experience where I’m not present. I’ve sat in too many literature classes where people have no interest in humanizing the narratives they’re reading.  There’s always an assumption of a “we” in the class. People don’t want to make an effort if the experience doesn’t center them.  They don’t care for stories that don’t cater to them.  In most situations, context is key. Education isn’t about providing a context but the right context. Naming things for what they are instead of hiding behind umbrella terms. I need for people to understand that stories matter. They matter even when they’re not your own. They matter even when they challenge you. They certainly matter if the person telling them doesn’t look like you.

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Hoai An

I cared about how I looked and how I acted when I was younger especially in terms of race. I did have mostly white friends and I really cared about how I presented myself. I never wanted to be ‘too Asian’. I spent so much time stressed about it. I would tell myself its okay to be who you are, to have a name like that, and to be from this culture, but I never could actually accept it.  I remember in 6thgrade I had 200 extra credit points and then slowly stopped trying year by year because I was being labeled as just another Asian. I used to not want that label, but no matter what I did, someone would give it to me. In high school, I had a bunch of health problems and migraines. I went to my counselor – I’d never met her before – and I said I couldn’t take a math class seventh hour because I had such bad headaches at that time that I couldn’t concentrate. She looked at me and said, “Is it because your parents push you too hard to get A’s?” It was one of those things, where she was being genuinely nice and caring, but completely awful.

I didn’t really realize how hard it was for me to accept my identity until I came here and saw how proud some people were of where they came from. I am a tiny bit French and I would always cling to it and shy away from being Asian. In high school orchestra, we had a “whitest banana” award. I won it one year and I remember being so happy. It’s awful now thinking about it. I didn’t realize it was something bad and racist in any way because I was so caught up in myself. Though, when I got the award, someone told me that I definitely wasn’t fresh off the boat, and I had a problem with that. One,  FOB is racist and two, being fresh of the boat and the journey it takes to get there is so hard and the sacrifices that people make are so hard. When people use FOB, they’re throwing that term around casually, a term that represents suffering and pain.  At the time, the award was something I could be proud about which is awful and something I was groomed to think was okay and want to be.

I like that I know I can read myself well. I’ve become a lot better at reading myself and sensing what is not making me happy or what I need. I used think I needed to be around people all the time otherwise I was not cool. I’ve realized that sometimes I want to be a hermit and have alone time with Netflix and myself. It is just something I need and I’ve been able to accept the fact I don’t need or care to be around people all of the time.

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Khan San

The more you know the more you are disappointed with everyone and everything. Maybe it’s more the university because they are not catering to what I want to do or what I need to do or what they are doing to other people and creating space for people. I dealt with really bad depression over the first few years and it was really hard to do schoolwork along with that. There is not really much the school can do about it but its hard when you are looking over you’re grades. I know a lot of people who are dealing with it. It’s sad because the university spent so much money on a tree! Of course they will continue to move everything out of the way, as they normally do, for white males. I’ve never really had any pride and now it as at zero.

Throughout my life especially coming from Ann Arbor you sort of want to turn away from your identity for me Asian American where you just white wash yourself to the point of where you are trying to be white. In the past two years its been claiming back what’s been washed. Especially being around people who are going through a similar thing it is realizing who you are and what affects you and other people and changing it. It is not only identifying things but also changing things. Being around my close friend and opening up and figuring out how to dismantle things helps. I would tell my earlier self the same thing I would tell myself now. Speak up more. Its hard because its so easy to go along with what everyone else is saying or doing so you don’t get that backlash. It’s important to stand up for what you believe in.

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Ki Da Da

It’s culturally closed-minded here. It’s really uncomfortable walking around as a person of color. I’m from L.A. and its really different here. I didn’t know what I was getting into coming to school in the Midwest. I didn’t think it was going to be this bad. After I got here and saw the way people acted and the weird comments in classes I thought, “whoa! This is not a place I want to be”. I had a counselor at CAPS and the lady was white and a master’s student doing her practicum. She was nice and I would complain a lot about how hard it was and she told me once, “have you ever considered just majoring in African American studies?”. Everything I had told her about was how I liked politics and policy and nothing about black culture. It was ignorant of her. I thought about how this is a therapist at this university and she should be more qualified. I did a study in the psych department. The whole study was how people of color react to racism. I didn’t know that and this girl came in and said this really stupid comment, “oh she can’t be that smart or possibly have a 4.0”. I thought it was a real girl at the university. I flipped out screaming and cussing. I can’t believe the school would let things like that go by and support that. People signed off on this. When I came here I don’t remember feeling supported as a woman of color. This school is catered to one type of student.

I grew up in The Valley, which is very white, and if I went into black communities I would be called white washed. I hated it and I never felt a part of the black community. When I came here I identified so much more with black people because there are none of us. Out here I get so much more offended when I see micro aggressions or how people of color are treated differently on campus. It is so pointless and it’s like going back in time to like the 1950s.

I love that I care about my family and that I am close to them. Family is the most important thing. It’s been really hard to get close to my family because I’ve struggled so much with being biracial. Also, maybe I don’t love it all the time but the fact that I came back here is really fucking hard. It’s so hard but I am proud that I did. So many people don’t come back to school after they drop out. I learned a lot going out of state but it’s expensive. Everyone told me to stay in state but then maybe I wouldn’t have grown as much.

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Kirin

I love the city. I love seeing all of the students and walking to class. I love how there are so many students though it can be kind of overwhelming at times. There are so many opportunities and people to meet but sometimes I worry about missing out on things. Like if I pass someone on The Diag and think we could be best friends but I also might never see them again. I also struggle with wanting to part of too many things. Every time I hear about a fun opportunity I want to join, even though this is impossible.

I’m proud of my first semester at Michigan. Over winter break I was talking to my parents about how I was nervous to meet people. I am happy about how I was able to relax at Michigan and find friendly people and a great group of friends.

I like my ability to put things in perspective. I don’t get too wrapped up in the little things that my peers get wrapped up in. I think I get this from my parents — they are great about talking me through things. I also have a good sense of humor and appreciate other people’s sense of humor. I am light hearted and enjoy having fun.

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Lily

I love the Latino community here. I look at all my friends as brothers and sisters and I feel like we are all very close knit. It’s like a family. At the end of the day we recognize we are in this together and work on ourselves and help each other out in every which way possible. That is something new that I experienced at Michigan. I think that the little pockets that you find at Michigan are great but it’s a double-edged sword. There is not really an avenue to come together. It’s all very separate.

My self as a student is an anomaly. I come from out of state but from a low socio economic background. I remember the first time I was here I saw that out of state cost of attendance is almost $60,000 per year and both of my parents make less than that. The medium income in my neighborhood is less than that. It blows my mind. It’s hard to be an ethnic minority here at the University of Michigan because there are so few Latinos. A lot of people may not have experienced that side of their identity until here at this school. The Latino community is very complex and I love that for it but it was so hard for me because a lot of the people I interacted with were Latin American immigrants. Speaking Spanish was normal for my friends and me and we had so many community places and stores that sold our products. Here I get really homesick.

One big thing I tell friends back in my hometown in Boston and myself is that I never had to prove how much of a Latina I was. People would always accept me. When they asked where I was from it wasn’t a bad thing. It was usually in Spanish and they just wanted to know what country I’m from. I used to El Salvador and that was it. It was never like you don’t look Salvadorian or act Salvadorian. Here I feel like my Latin identity is more salient than in the past. Before I never had to prove it to anyone or had to think about.

I really love how now I am growing into myself. Whenever I look into the mirror I like what is looking back at me. I like that I look like my mom and my mom’s family. Now it’s so reassuring that I can look in a mirror and see myself, my family, and my people looking back at me. Before I used to not think about it.

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Linsa

My favorite thing about Ann Arbor isn’t really the town itself or the environment. It’s the people I’ve met, the people who have become my friends, my support system, my community. They’re what I love most about this place.

There’s this impression that Ann Arbor is this super liberal, really progressive city, and honestly, it’s not, at least not in my experience. Yeah, I’ve met some of the most amazing people here, but that’s more the exception than the norm, I think. Ann Arbor’s not as liberal or progressive as it would like to think. There are some really awful people here. There are so many places I’ll never feel safe. Plus, the university has a tendency to reply on its reputation for being this bastion of diversity and social justice, and it’s like, U of M can talk the talk — not even always — but it can’t walk the walk. Are there specific people or maybe even departments doing awesome work? For sure. But mostly, the university as a whole? Not really. It’s a surprisingly conservative place.

Sometimes I think I haven’t changed at all from the kid I was when I was 18, but then I take a step back and remember all the ways I have actually grown and changed. I feel like if I could meet my high school senior self and talk to her about who I am, what I believe in, and how I navigate the world, she’d just kinda stare at me and be like, “Who are you? Please leave.” I mean I came out in college, and that wasn’t something I was even remotely ready to deal with in high school. And then college was the time I really started to figure things out, like how to define my queerness in terms of sexual and romantic attraction, but also in terms of politics. I think now that I’ve had some time to explore and understand and embrace all my different identities, I’m in a place where I’m looking at things much more critically, both in terms of myself and the world around me. Like thinking about my gender identity and gender expression and what that means, or thinking about why I call myself a woman of color, and really thinking about what it means politically, because it’s a political identity and not a racial one, and trying to honor that was a term coined by black women when other non-white women wanted to join them in their political work. That’s definitely a work-in-progress, and I think it will be for my whole life. That and honoring the fluidity and ambiguity of some of my identities, too.

As I’m working through a lot of mental health stuff and depression, figuring out who I am when I’m not depressed has been an ongoing process. It’s strange because I’ve been dealing with it for so long I almost don’t know who I am without it. It’s a terrifying, vaguely blank canvas. I mean, It’s exciting because I get to rediscover who I am and what I’m like, but it’s also a really big unknown. I’m working on making peace with the unknown and future. And also, to realize it’s okay to do things for myself and make decisions for myself, that make me happy, is really hard and something I’m working on. I would love to get to a place where I can find a balance between taking care of other important people in my life and still centering myself when I should.

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Meera

When I was younger I lived by the saying everything was okay and it has run me to the ground a few times. I didn’t realize it hindered the awareness of my problems and struggles. Part of it is pride, it let me hide what I did not want to see. Every time someone told me a secret about them, I felt important. It was like they were giving me something special of theirs to hold onto and keep safe. But when I faced my own wall, I crumbled very quickly because I didn’t want to put such a heavy load on someone else. We put pressure on ourselves to be present and be in the moment because if you miss it, it’s gone. I think it’s okay to be lost and explore those weird passageways in your mind. It’s important for me to heal because I’m able to take myself out of situations sometimes. Carving out time for that process is essential for me.

My most salient identity right now is my mixed identity and I’m still trying to find words to describe it. It was powerful for me to find the phrase Asian American because it encompassed my heritage from both sides as well as my experience here. When I realized it wasn’t enough, I started to look for other words to describe my experience. When we talk about mixed identity, many people assume that there is a parent of color and a white parent. The way many Asians and Asian Americans talk about mixed people is really interesting especially in the communities I’ve interacted with. There is always this appeal that a person will looks part White and part Asian. When people say mixed people are beautiful, it is always about half white people. Even within the history of mixed race and ethnicity, people have been in relationships outside of their culture for a long time. For some reason, this identity is has become the ‘future face of America’ or the ‘face of globalization.’ But we are not a novelty. This experience of having two immigrant parents of color and living in American and living as a woman is such a large part of who I am, and I often times don’t have the diction to explain it. The words I use are still evolving.

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Mekarem

The four semesters I’ve spent at Michigan have been spent trying to understand my own identities and how they fit in with the various spaces on campus. So many of my classes have put me into spaces where I would not only be having to defend my identity, but also be expected to share intimate parts of who I with complete strangers. I remember vividly having to read a book where the fourth line was, “All Arabs should be dead,” and testimonials from IDF soldiers who committed a massacre in my family’s hometown during the Nakba. The professor knew my Palestinian identity and my family’s hometown, yet she thought it would be okay not to warn me of the content of these books and then continued to ask me to share the emotional roller-coaster I took when reading these texts.

Aside from the academic sphere, I’ve had to reevaluate so many of my friendships. When UMDivest happened last year an old friend sent me this racist article, but when I responded saying there was no context and in sum was a bunch of crap she said I was playing the victim. She didn’t know what happened those two weeks, yet for some reason that response still hurt and I was left with the question of why I was still friends with her. But in reflecting and ending these relationships that no longer sustained me, I was able to create new ones–especially after all that came out of the UMDivest space.

I love my comfort with silence. Silence offers versatility that is found in very few places. There I can spend time with my mind and thoughts, but it’s also a space to learn so much about others. You learn so much about someone in how they work and exist within spaces of silence.

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Natasha

I like how you can meet new people all the time if you make an effort to. You are not bound to a certain group. I like being able to take a wide range of classes across different disciplines. There are also a lot of things to do on campus. Walking back and forth from class, I like going to the UMMA. It is nice and calm and feels different than the rest of campus. It feels like I’m going to a different world.

I didn’t realize how not diverse this university was until I studied abroad at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. It was very diverse and when I came back here I really noticed the lack of diversity. The insensitivity people have towards marginalized groups doesn’t make for a welcoming environment here. Some examples would be when people talk about divestment, black lives matter, or instate tuition of undocumented students. I don’t like that our university is getting richer and richer and becoming a business. Most people don’t even see what is wrong with that. Our president doesn’t seem to care about the students at least it seems very surface level. Even though he sends out surveys about campus environment that doesn’t mean he is actively taking part in changing anything because if was he would listen to student issues.

I don’t think my identity has changed besides understanding myself more. Lots of my experiences of being South Asian American I thought just happened to me. Through my classes and learning stuff in women studies I can put names to the stuff I feel. For example like understanding cultural appropriation. Understanding what South Asian means and diaspora and finding friends with similar experiences has been very helpful. It makes me feel less apart from everyone else because high school was predominantly white. People can say they understand but they really cant unless they’ve been through it.

I like that I can think about things critically even though I can’t be perfect in that way. I’ve grown in a lot in understanding peoples’ experiences and not stepping on their toes. Expanding my knowledge and being able to understand more complex issues is one of my favorite things. It allows me to make better decisions about small things like what products to buy and what businesses to support to understanding how different identities work together. I also am happy with myself now and don’t care a lot about the way I dress anymore. I used to worry about dressing in trends and now I just wear what makes me comfortable and it’s not something I constantly think about anymore.

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Olivia

The best about being here are my friends. The woman I have met and the learning I have done outside of the classroom has been the most important to me. The way the majority interacts around issues of race bothers me and I find it in all of my classes. It’s very like ‘we are on the outside and examining you on the inside’. Even in the academic context where it is not supposed to be problematic it is. It can be really hard. Having to censor myself for someone who has never censored their self for me. It is the exoticism thing too. I was at the art fair this white man asked to take a photo for a fashion magazine of my friend, Ebere, and me. Then he asked to take a photo of just me and then was like I’m also doing a separate project on biracial people. I cussed him out and said, “No I am not biracial”. He said, “Oh you’re not biracial? Haha you’re just not mixed enough. I just assumed because you are so beautiful you must be biracial”. This old white man said that too me. Not only was he offending me he also was offending Ebere who he asked to step outside of the picture. I could not believe someone would say something like that at me. He ended up walking away and Ebere and I just sat their stunned. I just started crying. I’ve had people exoticize me before but never to the extent to where the only way a black person could be beautiful was to be mixed and mixed enough. I saw him later and told him to delete my picture and he didn’t. I told him he was wrong to make projects tokenizing people. He grabbed my wrist and told me to calm down. That was probably the worst thing that has ever happened in Ann Arbor. It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard. I spent four years yelling at people. I have a thousand stories I could tell.

I would tell my younger self to follow her spirit. Not in a religious way but your intuitive voice. That voice that is telling you to do something that may not follow what society is telling you is often correct. Speak and to view your voice as a precious metal. I was always told to shut up and it affected my interactions with people. I would tell my younger self don’t hold guilt or shame around who you are and what you look like. I still tell myself these things everyday. Its been attacked on very many levels. Either being the exoticized other or my own community telling me I’m conceited. I took all of those things and drank them and they sat inside of me. It is still something I’m dealing with.

It took me 20 years to say a statement like this. I love my openness, my understanding, and my valuing of what is natural in anyway shape or form. I am really into healing myself through what is already here in the Earth rather than going outside of myself to find things that would potentially harm my body. It is something that is rooted in my family. It makes me happy as well as the people I interact happy.

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Ryan

It was hard to connect as an out-of-state student because I didn’t know anyone form my high school. I’ve always tried to be heavily involved in one new student org a year.

With respect to race, it’s hard being misunderstood all the time. Not just in the generic white-person-doesn’t-understand-person-of-color way but specifically as a Black person thing. Being Black specifically is different than just being a person of color in general. We all have different struggles. It’s not a lot of us. And for me, if you are a Black person who grew up in a white high school, coming here and finding your own Blackness and self and unlearning a lot of what white people had taught me has been a challenge. I was a junior before I felt I had really found my group and recognized there are multiple ways to be Black and there is not just this one way I needed to force myself to fit into. I could just never imagine a white person thinking like “how do I be white and how do I connect with my fellow white Americans?”. It’s just a non-issue. When I finally started taking

It’s from the women studies and social justice classes, but understanding what it means to be a woman and to be Black has been different I remember thinking that there was a good and bad way to be black and being totally indoctrinated into that ideology. As a woman, my views on sexuality completely changed. I used to think casual sex was unequivocally bad and now, as long its consensual, its fine. I used to think you had to date with a purpose and that purpose was marriage. Now I’m just like, fuck it whatever. Do you. I have a broader world perspective. I remember telling my parents how a lot of my friends from high school who I don’t want to be friends with anymore are people who went to college and did not graduate a better person. Now I am much more interested in people who are bettering themselves by whatever definition that means to them. I also had the realization that nothing is very black and white whether it is man and woman in gender, or something else.  What isn’t a spectrum? Most things are. I definitely used to think that people had the right to know or be in other people’s lives. I don’t owe people anything. I used to subscribe to the idea of “do it for the greater good”. Like who is this collective good? It’s largely rich, white, straight men. Obviously I’m not going to just help out that agenda. Where are people of color in that?

I like that I make people feel wanted and enjoyed. I’m generally interested in people and figuring out people. I’m very good at integrating people who are not in the friend group. I try really hard to make people feel included and wanted, especially when they don’t feel like a natural fit. I have a better than average skill at making people feel included.

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Sarah B.

I grew up on a reservation with not very much development other than the casino. Where I went to high school the neighboring area was a predominantly white rural area so I’m thankful to have this city with diverse people. I already knew there was a Native American community here. Coming here I sought them out and was really happy to be part of the powwow.

There are issues of diversity and the climate within in U of M. In my American culture classes the climate has been very inviting and we talk about race issues and all sides are represented. My first experience with racism happened in my English class. A student asked if I still lived in a teepee, if I had electricity, and stuff like that. I was really taken aback. I thought this was such a great place. Now, it kind of seems like the university is taking the lack of diversity and representation on campus on their agenda. I’ve been involved in some of the diversity talks but there is still a long way to go. I was walking across The Diag last semester and it was still warm out. This Asian man approached me and was like, “you’re so beautiful and I just wanted to say hi. You look so pretty. You’re mixed, what are you?” and I was like, “No, I’m not mixed, I’m Native American.” He was like “Wow! I didn’t know they went to college. Good for you”. I stood there for a minute and I didn’t know how to respond and he asked for my number. I told him how there is a prominent population of Native Americanos of us on campus and I’m actually the co chair of the student group. He blew that off and asked for my number again. When I got home I got emotionally.

Native identity is really fluid to every individual. For me it’s about growing up on the reservation and my family raising me with traditionally native culture and religion. It’s a big influence on my native identity. There are other identity issues where some tribes are not officially recognized. I am a third Native American so I have multiple identities there but I’ve always identified as Native American. Whenever someone is mixed race there is always identity issues throughout your lifetime. The basis of my identity is embracing my culture and people. I love my compassion for everything: earth, resources, animals, people, and nature. It extends from my native identity and helps me understand a lot of issues. I love humanity. I’ve always considered myself as nice but whenever I meet new people and discuss different issues I notice when people’s priorities are different. I prioritize how people feel and how they see the world. I can easily place myself in their shoes.

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Sarah K.

I like that I’ve been able to find a Muslim community in Ann Arbor. I never realized Ann Arbor would feel so big especially coming from a small high school. It overwhelmed me and I get homesick easily. I think that in my head I thought Ann Arbor would be a bigger version of my high school, which was really diverse. I thought I would feel more comfortable from my classes and I expected more from my classes. I am part of the Muslim Student Association and it’s been able to provide me resources and support which I never had since, growing up, I wasn’t apart of a Masjid community and since most of my family is in India. Over the past few years I definitely found friends here who I consider family. It’s really nice to have that support system.

Growing up I was always the Muslim girl and because I wore hijab, everyone automatically new I was Muslim. That was my most salient identity, and it remains so, but I’ve definitely realized the intersections of my various identities. I’ve really had to consider race and gender and how those identities play out and shape my experiences.  For me being Muslim has always been a personal experience and now its really weird taking classes here about the Muslim identity and read about it in textbooks. It’s been an interesting process trying to understand where my Muslim identity fits in larger global contexts. It’s hard to sit in classes where people are critical of my religion and often times the hijab. Sometimes teachers and professors are critical to a point where I feel extremely uncomfortable in class. Being Muslim is really important to me- so it hurts to hear that the religion is “backwards” or “oppressive”. It’s usually white students extrapolating on my personal experiences and making large claims. As I’m usually one of the few, if not the only Muslim, it’s sometimes hard to speak out all the time.

I would tell my younger self that quality is better than quantity when it comes to friends. I’ve just realized that in terms of people who I let into my life I need to be careful of who I do that with. Also that it’s okay to step away from people who make your life difficult- you don’t have any obligation to people.  Over the past years my circle has definitely shrunk and I’ve found key people I can turn to.

I like that I actively make the effort to not hold grudges. I try to remind myself to be kind because I the extra weight of being angry sometimes gets to be too much. I like that I make the effort to stay soft.

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Sierre

I’d like to stop being laser-focused on what makes me productive and successful, and put more time towards finding happiness. I’m trying right now, but it’ll take some time because I’m so used to having a stressful schedule and workload. I’ve always been one to try everything and excel at everything, but I often stretch myself too thin because of this, and it puts stress on my normal well-being and happiness. If I could give advice to my younger self, it would be to find things that make you happy first, and consider being productive or successful afterwards. Before I came here, I was honestly considering a triple degree so I could literally do everything – I would’ve killed myself!

All that aside, I really value my ability to move and to stay active. A couple years ago, I was diagnosed with a mild form of ADD, and I would describe it as having little ticking gears inside my head that always keep grinding and shifting, and never stop. Even when I run into obstacles or feel down about myself, it only lasts a few hours – I am always able to get back up and move on. It feels so uncomfortable not to move, both physically and mentally. The fidgetiness that never goes away.

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Susanna

Not everyone is looking at and judging you 100% of the time. Most of the time they are caring about their own lives. I used to be really self-conscious. I thought that people were always judging and looking at me. Middle and high school were really awkward. It is so big here that you know people are not constantly judging and looking at you. I started to realize that when I came here.

Along with being self-conscious I used to feel down all the time. It’s getting a lot better now. Now that I get to regulate my own schedule and I’m in charge of it, I try really hard to get more sleep. It helps my mood. Knowing what friends are good for me also helps. Sometimes you have to disassociate with friends who bring you down, insult you, or are a bad influence. The summer before college, I realized that some people who I thought were close to me wouldn’t ask to hang out or only asked for favors. They were not having a positive effect on me or seemed to care about me. Surrounding myself with positive people made a big difference.

I like that I am accepting with everyone. I have a lot of empathy. Sometimes it’s bad because you get used and run over but I still like that I have empathy for people. I also like that I can dance. I get to be different when I dance. A lot of people are quite surprised that I am a totally different person when I dance. When people dance they are super confident. For example, dance circles are all about showing off but also supporting each other. It’s a really positive environment. It makes you feel good about yourself.

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Teresa

Something that I’ve gotten from Michigan is how much I’ve been exposed to issues surrounding socio economic status, race, and gender, especially through working at The Michigan Daily and with Michigan in Color. Those at work together have taught me how to critically view ideas of diversity and race. Michigan in Color has taught me about the power of personal narrative. I don’t know if I could have taken away the same things if I went somewhere else–especially intersecting those ideas of art and personal narrative with writing. My work—everything I’ve done, from editing narratives to photographing sports—has really brought home to me that so much about life and culture and perception ties back to race.

I think cluelessness is a really pervasive and kind of insidious issue. I see a lot of people who are very privileged, which in and of itself is fine. But privilege is very dangerous when you don’t recognize it or, even worse, when you’re unwilling to. And I think that a lot of people are unwilling. At The Michigan Daily, I remember our Managing Sports Editor being uninterested when we talking about how we could make the newsroom a more diverse place. He actually said, “I don’t know why we have to try so hard to fix this. The diversity in the newsroom has always been this way. It’s always been predominantly white.” And I remember thinking that if people thought the way he did we wouldn’t have any civil rights. We wouldn’t have human rights. You fight for things because you hope and believe they can be better. It’s amazing to see how much passion people have for these issues but also demoralizing to see how many people don’t know or don’t care.

Don’t feel like other people’s love and happiness are your responsibility, because you can’t control the way people feel. You shouldn’t tie your self worth, your own love, and your own happiness to them. And that’s something I had to work very hard at learning.

I think I love how much I love. And I think that is drawn from the fact that if I like someone I open my heart to them with everything. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t ever love someone in full force. Love is bright and lyrical and hard, but it’s worth the bravery it requires.

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Wendy

Coming to the University of Michigan was a great opportunity to grow intellectually, mentally, professionally, and personally. I learned so much, but it was also a place that enraged every part of me and ignited the passions I had for fighting against injustice. I’ve found that I’m not alone in these feelings, not in the slightest. I enjoy seeing the passion fellow students have here. I’m the first from both sides of my family to graduate high school and go on to graduate college. I struggled a lot to get here. I dealt with and witnessed poverty, discrimination, drug abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, all while a single Mexican mother who was repeatedly a victim of sexism, exploitation and racism raised me. Thus, I’m passionate and out spoken on various issues. I refuse to be silenced. Some people think I’m too aggressive or too steadfast. I like to think of it as simply fighting relentlessly for those who don’t get the opportunity. My mom is one of those individuals. She’s my inspiration as she conquered all. I make it a point to absorb everything I learn at U of M and bring it back to my family as her chances were ripped away from her. While I fully appreciate everything this University has given me, I am pissed off.

I am fed up with the entitlement, intentional lack of understanding, disrespect and overall narrow-minded attitudes of some people hold at this University. This University loves to preach diversity yet, when there is blatant acts of racist disrespect towards students of color it’s officials’ retreat to their premium offices and issue a slap on the wrist to the perpetrators who then learn first hand that their behavior doesn’t deserve consequences because there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a major issue. My frustrations don’t end there, I have witnessed my people step on each other and be stepped on by other minority groups in the competition for who is most oppressed. Too many times I’ve seen the experiences and oppressions of different cultural groups dismissed because they don’t fit the black and white dichotomy. There is a massive communication gap and lack of understanding within the different communities of color here. It’s sad. We close ourselves out and shut others out even if unintentionally. We want others to hear our voices and feel our pain, yet we don’t take the time to do that for our fellow friends of color. We’re all in the same battle to achieve equality, safety and love. Instead of unifying into a large unconquerable group we separate between insider and outsider. If these groups are getting erased, we will never get to hear their stories. The cycle of inner minority racism will prevail just like the racism we as a people experience daily. But not everyone can see this. Not everyone cares about it enough to take action.

I’ve learned not to expect other people to take action or you may be waiting forever. If you feel passionate about something or you feel that something needs to change, do something yourself. One of my biggest regrets is waiting. Here I am in my senior year with all of these passions, pains and ideas-but it’s too late. I encourage you to embrace your emotions, analyze how change is possible and come up with a plan and take the necessary steps to implement change. I wish I had done more, but although I’ll be graduating in May, I’m not close to being done.

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Zena

I am from Ann Arbor. Something I like is how engaged people are within the city. If you walk by someone they will smile back. I am living in Markley and I like it a lot. We have every sorority in our hall and everyone comes back and tells stories about different things. It is kind of like your family and everyone does different activates and talks about it when they’re back together.

I feel sometimes because people are open to opinions that people believe they can voice their opinions too much. Everyone is very open but some people take advantage of that and get into peoples faces. I feel that the majority of Ann Arbor is not like that but when people come up to you like, “Do this! Do this! Believe this!” its like no its fine to have your beliefs there is no need to try to change people.

I tell myself that everything happens for a reason. I believe that now because when things don’t go the way I plan I think that something better will turn up. Or something I didn’t want I end up wanting. Also, don’t worry. I worried a lot before because I have two older brothers and worried about meeting the standard of the person in front of me. I always wanted to make sure I did as well I was supposed to.

I am trying to be more open to other ideas because I tend to think what I am doing is the best thing is possible. That is not always true or necessary to do the best thing or the fastest thing. I am trying to be more open to other ideas and think them through. Sometimes I find that I am a bit stubborn.

I am very true to my morals. I am not a big liar or beat around the bush. That is something I like about myself. I am not going to let someone hurt themselves or put themselves in a bad position to make sure their feelings are hurt. I try to think the best for everyone and have their best interests in mind. My mom is big on that. My dad, if I do bad on a test he wont say, “you will do better next time” but “you really need to work harder”. I really do have the people who are close to me best interests in mind.

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