What began Danielle Williams’ UofM journey was a Film and Photography class at Renaissance High School, Detroit. Danielle had little experience with cameras prior to junior year. But her final photos in the class made her a recipient of various accolades, and were exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Arts as a part of an exhibition for Detroit Public Schools. As a senior, Danielle’s top choice for college was the University of Southern California, known for its film and screen arts programs. However, fate was determined to keep Danielle in her home state, and she arrived at the University of Michigan as a LSA Film, Television and Media student in the fall of 2017.
Upon entering college, Danielle had the unique chance to participate in Film Studies research through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity program, where she and her team worked together to archive Orson Welles' unmade film "Heart of Darkness." This experience not only inspired Danielle to be interested in continuing her studies through graduate school, but also laid the foundation for her future path in higher education. In addition to Film research, she was also actively involved with the Black Student Union and campus unit Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI) as an Academic Success Partner. By participating in community organizing and working directly with students from disadvantaged backgrounds and marginalized groups, Danielle became determined to dedicate her undergraduate career to social justice.
Entering her junior year, Danielle planned on completing a DAAS minor, but by the end of the academic year, she knew that she wanted to major in Afroamerican and African Studies. One of the courses that had a huge impact on Danielle was the Sociology of Race in the United States. This class furthered her understanding of race as a social construct as well as how race is perpetuated through various societal norms.
Just understanding how race came to be…We learned about the census, and about how for a long time, even though there were immigrants coming from plenty of places, if you weren’t deemed white, all you had to check was Black. For instance, Asian immigrants would be labeled as “Black” even though that is a different category and they came from completely different countries.
In addition, Danielle also enrolled in several classes taught by Steven Ward, including History of Hip Hop and the DAAS Capstone Seminar focused on higher education. As a part of her course reading, Danielle was introduced to the book, Undermining Racial Justice: How One University Embraced Inclusion and Inequality by Matthew Johnson. Using the University of Michigan as a case study, Johnson’s research discussed how inequalities and anti-Blackness are perpetuated systematically in higher education. Through her class with Professor Ward, where she learned about the food apartheid in Detroit and its connection to gentrification, Danielle also became in touch with Feedom Freedom, a grassroots organization that cultivates an urban garden to beautify the urban landscape and to promote food sovereignty. On weekends, Danielle spent her mornings working in the garden with Black and Brown folks. Occasionally, the garden hosted community yoga sessions and the group also socialized while baking bread together. These experiences in and outside the classroom enabled Danielle to contextualize her own existence as a Black woman in the United States and helped her recognize solidarities between various minority groups.
I learned how to be an ally to other marginalized groups, specifically for disabled people. I have become more cognizant of how I benefit from an ableist society and how to change it for the better. The framework used for [disability organizing] oftentimes borrows from the work that’s been done for racial groups to make institutions more accessible.
By the time of graduation, Danielle was accepted into a Masters program in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. However, she had decided to defer her offer for a year to gain more work experience. From the UofM Computer and Engineering Department to the Residential College then to Stanford, Danielle finally arrived in DAAS, the place where she discovered her passion for community and social change. She is excited to return to the department where she received indispensable knowledge for her growth as a citizen as well as educator, and she is ready to give back to her community. She is finalizing her first gallery show, a beautiful display of vision boards from graduate students in the DAAS gallery and looking to kickstart her DAAS journey as an administrator.
While Danielle is currently focused on her career in higher education, she never gave up her passion for storytelling and photography. She is working to restart her Youtube channel and upload more content in the future. And two media pieces she would recommend to students are Everything Everywhere All At Once and Insecure, both of which depict the immense power ordinary individuals bear to love, and to change the people around them.