For the health, safety, and wellbeing of U-M students like yours, The Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR), Spectrum Center, and Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) shifted student offerings online for the Fall 2020 semester. The three units are largely tasked with driving social justice education on campus around the intersections of identities that draw in thousands of students.
Last year, Pride Outside, the annual LGBTQ+ welcome week event, brought in over 1,000 students. MESA Palooza!, the popular welcome week tabling event, brought in over 600 participants featuring over 50 multicultural student organizations. This Fall looked and felt different.
IGR’s CommonGround program offers workshops across campus for student organizations looking to strengthen their ability to help promote social identity development and enhance group dynamics. Programs like CommonGround depend upon authentic and intentional student engagement. Going remote surfaced major questions around how facilitation=based programs would be able to engage students.
To prepare for an online semester, CommonGround’s Program Manager, Cesar Vargas-Leon, spent the summer honing and developing an online platform utilizing Canvas, the platform used to run U-M courses, to be able to onboard and train dozens of students. “This year, one of our biggest concerns is the well-being of our student employees,” he said. “The site has allowed us to check in on how they are doing as they navigate what remote engagement looks like.”
With programs being run online, the units developed new ways to be able to help students feel at home on campus. Over the summer, Lorant Peeler, Spectrum Center’s Program Specialist, sought to meet students where they are at -- on social media. It can be difficult for students to feel connected in a large yet community-driven university and social media is able to bridge that gap.
In particular, following the wake of social movements in Minneapolis sparked by the death of George Floyd, there was a need to show up for students in ways that resonated with them. Lorant partnered with colleagues from the Trotter Multicultural Center and MESA to create the #CelebrateQTBIPOC (Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) campaign on Instagram. The series elevated the Center’s ability to reach students and has led to an increase in online presence that has continued into the Fall semester.
Gone are the days of large in-person events for Spectrum Center and MESA. Some events simply were not replicable online. Pride Outside and MESA-Palooza! both had significantly lower turn-outs. The learning curve has been steep, uncertain, and has meant navigating day-to-day shifts. Staff have worked tirelessly to find new innovative ways to connect students to resources and help build a sense of belonging. Students from marginalized identities often have harder times accessing resources, finding community, and making it through to graduation. One barrier to success can be feelings of isolation and cultural invisibility on campus, in other words, not seeing themselves represented in the programming. Being remote exponentially increases these barriers.
Javier Solorzano-Parada, a Program Manager built off of MESA’s shared experiences taking two heritage months virtual last Winter mid-semester.
In launching Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) this Fall, he guided student leaders in the creation of a dedicated website to effectively capture the month’s programs. Shifting to a dedicated site has allowed the heritage month to express the breadth of it’s programming, theme, and educational components. In addition, hosting live events on Zoom has allowed for easy documentation, which had not been a possibility before. This led to the ability to further share events asynchronously, such as through the Opening Ceremony recap video that Javi edited. These along with other adjustments has resulted in higher turnouts throughout the month, averaging 80-100 attendees per event.
These adaptations have allowed units to find new ways to build the Maize & Blue community with students.
Having weathered the first weeks of the semester, and with an eye on the elections, our social justice units are proactively developing methods to present opportunities for students to come together, build meaningful communities, and find the support students like yours need for their well-being and success.