Skip to Content

Search: {{$root.lsaSearchQuery.q}}, Page {{$root.page}}

 

 

 

The last several months have been…intense. The COVID-19 outbreak has altered every aspect of society, and the Black Lives Matter movement has reignited the fight for civil rights and the need to dismantle oppressive systems.

In LSA, students are turning to social media and technology to engage with the causes they’re most passionate about. Here are three stories of how LSA students have worked to address systemic injustice during the COVID-19 pandemic, one Zoom call at a time.


The last several months have been…intense. The COVID-19 outbreak has altered every aspect of society, and the Black Lives Matter movement has reignited the fight for civil rights and the need to dismantle oppressive systems.

In LSA, students are turning to social media and technology to engage with the causes they’re most passionate about. Here are three stories of how LSA students have worked to address systemic injustice during the COVID-19 pandemic, one Zoom call at a time.
 

 

Care Matters

LSA student Thomas Vance has devoted his summer to accomplishing two big goals in his Black Student Union leadership role: “I’ve been trying to maintain connection in virtual environments, and trying to maintain relevance in uncertainty.”

Thomas Vance (A.B. ’21) has been busy. A senior double-majoring in political science and Afroamerican and African studies, he is the speaker of the Black Student Union (BSU) and spent the summer leading a high school debate camp on criminal justice reform while also studying for the LSAT. It all felt important, but, as the summer went on, he found himself channeling most of his efforts into his BSU leadership role: “I’ve been trying to maintain connection in virtual environments, and trying to maintain relevance in uncertainty.”

During the George Floyd protests the first week of June, Vance knew that he needed to offer a written statement of support to the BSU community that was more than just words. He needed to make a commitment to action. “I wanted to put out there publicly the steps we were going to take,” he says.

Vance published the BSU’s statement in the Michigan Daily, on Instagram, and on Twitter. He wanted to reach the most readers, and he wanted to make BSU accountable. BSU promised its students three concrete actions during this time of grief and outrage over anti-Black racist violence: an anti-racist book club that paired fiction with nonfiction titles to create a shared, safe space of contemplation for the BSU community, care packages that would be delivered to all 234 BSU students, and a student know-your-rights primer for protest.

These are all part of the plans BSU has made for a semester of action, safety, and care for the Black community on-campus. Over the summer, the book club began reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, a novel in which a young Nigerian woman struggles with racism and being identified as a Black person for the first time after arriving in the United States, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, a book written as a letter to the author’s teenaged son about being Black. After a summer of social protest, Vance wanted BSU to be prepared for activism on campus, so BSU created a pamphlet about students’ rights to protest on campus, in the city, and in the state. Because of the physical distance that separated BSU members, Vance hoped the care packages would relay “a sense of closeness and compassion.” He wanted to send a message to BSU members that they matter.

Each care package contained a note from BSU staff advisor Elizabeth James, a QR code to the Black mental health guide that Wolverine Support Network created for BSU, an essential oil blend designed to reduce stress that Vance commissioned from a Black-owned Detroit business, a COVID face mask, and some BSU gear.

Vance sent the packages to BSU members in South Dakota, New York City, Florida, and Chicago. He also delivered more than 70 boxes himself, to students who remained in Ann Arbor and the Metro Detroit area.

“It was lots of work,” Vance laughs, “but worth it.” To Vance, the care packages were important, and in line with his summer goals for BSU leadership—to connect in a seemingly disconnected world and to remain relevant. He wanted to offer his peers “something physical that says BSU is always here, even when we are virtual.” Vance and BSU also used technology and social media to convey the same message.

“Summertime is a good time for new students to get to know BSU before they arrive on campus,” Vance says. In order to welcome more new students to the BSU community, Vance increased BSU’s social media presence. BSU began a series of takeovers and celebrations. For Pride week in June, BSU highlighted members of the Black LGBTQ+ community and they hosted a series of takeovers and celebrations on Instagram and Twitter. Vance is looking forward to the events scheduled for the fall for new membership, when he’ll have the opportunity to welcome students joining the BSU community.

For Vance, his work with BSU over the summer was all about fit. “It’s about finding your place in the broader movement. Some people want to sign petitions, some people want to donate, some people want to protest.” Vance found his place in helping others, to work to “figure out how to improve the lives of Black people.”

“The one thing I know I can do is use BSU to support Black students,” Vance says. “Which is what we’ve always done since we were founded in 1968.”

 

 

Care Matters

LSA student Thomas Vance has devoted his summer to accomplishing two big goals in his Black Student Union leadership role: “I’ve been trying to maintain connection in virtual environments, and trying to maintain relevance in uncertainty.”

Thomas Vance (A.B. ’21) has been busy. A senior double-majoring in political science and Afroamerican and African studies, he is the speaker of the Black Student Union (BSU) and spent the summer leading a high school debate camp on criminal justice reform while also studying for the LSAT. It all felt important, but, as the summer went on, he found himself channeling most of his efforts into his BSU leadership role: “I’ve been trying to maintain connection in virtual environments, and trying to maintain relevance in uncertainty.”

During the George Floyd protests the first week of June, Vance knew that he needed to offer a written statement of support to the BSU community that was more than just words. He needed to make a commitment to action. “I wanted to put out there publicly the steps we were going to take,” he says.

Vance published the BSU’s statement in the Michigan Daily, on Instagram, and on Twitter. He wanted to reach the most readers, and he wanted to make BSU accountable. BSU promised its students three concrete actions during this time of grief and outrage over anti-Black racist violence: an anti-racist book club that paired fiction with nonfiction titles to create a shared, safe space of contemplation for the BSU community, care packages that would be delivered to all 234 BSU students, and a student know-your-rights primer for protest.

These are all part of the plans BSU has made for a semester of action, safety, and care for the Black community on-campus. Over the summer, the book club began reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, a novel in which a young Nigerian woman struggles with racism and being identified as a Black person for the first time after arriving in the United States, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, a book written as a letter to the author’s teenaged son about being Black. After a summer of social protest, Vance wanted BSU to be prepared for activism on campus, so BSU created a pamphlet about students’ rights to protest on campus, in the city, and in the state. Because of the physical distance that separated BSU members, Vance hoped the care packages would relay “a sense of closeness and compassion.” He wanted to send a message to BSU members that they matter.

Each care package contained a note from BSU staff advisor Elizabeth James, a QR code to the Black mental health guide that Wolverine Support Network created for BSU, an essential oil blend designed to reduce stress that Vance commissioned from a Black-owned Detroit business, a COVID face mask, and some BSU gear.

Vance sent the packages to BSU members in South Dakota, New York City, Florida, and Chicago. He also delivered more than 70 boxes himself, to students who remained in Ann Arbor and the Metro Detroit area.

“It was lots of work,” Vance laughs, “but worth it.” To Vance, the care packages were important, and in line with his summer goals for BSU leadership—to connect in a seemingly disconnected world and to remain relevant. He wanted to offer his peers “something physical that says BSU is always here, even when we are virtual.” Vance and BSU also used technology and social media to convey the same message.

“Summertime is a good time for new students to get to know BSU before they arrive on campus,” Vance says. In order to welcome more new students to the BSU community, Vance increased BSU’s social media presence. BSU began a series of takeovers and celebrations. For Pride week in June, BSU highlighted members of the Black LGBTQ+ community and they hosted a series of takeovers and celebrations on Instagram and Twitter. Vance is looking forward to the events scheduled for the fall for new membership, when he’ll have the opportunity to welcome students joining the BSU community.

For Vance, his work with BSU over the summer was all about fit. “It’s about finding your place in the broader movement. Some people want to sign petitions, some people want to donate, some people want to protest.” Vance found his place in helping others, to work to “figure out how to improve the lives of Black people.”

“The one thing I know I can do is use BSU to support Black students,” Vance says. “Which is what we’ve always done since we were founded in 1968.”

 

 

What a Scientist Looks Like

As part of the Women in Science and Engineering Program, two undergraduates studying science at U-M are leading a virtual summer book club to get incoming first-year students thinking about racial justice in STEM.

“We were across the country, talking for the first very time. None of us had ever met,” says Madison Miller (B.S. ’22), a facilitator of a virtual summer book club sponsored by U-M’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program and LSA’s WISE Residential Program. Both WISE programs support women pursuing degrees and careers in STEM, and the residential program hosts a live-and-learn community for first-year students.

The book club, which started in July, welcomed small groups of incoming first-year students in WISE to meet every other week via Zoom. "At the beginning, I asked a few open-ended questions and was prepared to ask more,” says Miller, who studies biology and Spanish. “But everyone just started talking. I sat back and listened to this group of strangers open up about what it’s like to be a woman in science.”

For Elizabeth Stayton (B.S. ’21)—another book club facilitator triple-majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, environment, and biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience—supporting the newest members of the college community during the pandemic was especially important. “Everything is so crazy right now,” she says. “Being a first-year is already hard enough, but these students are extra unsure.”

The club also wants to educate new students about the value of fighting for racial justice within STEM. Along with facilitators like Miller and Stayton, the new students are reading What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha (B.S. ’98, M.P.H. ’08), a pediatrician whose discovery of lead poisoning in patients became part of the Flint Water Crisis. The book tells Hanna-Attisha’s struggle to advocate for her patients against biased legislation and systemic oppression, and her journey as an immigrant, a person of color, and a woman in the science world.

“We’re talking a lot about how the crisis affected racial minorities and people in poverty, and how it might have been under control a lot more quickly, or even prevented, if those impacted had been white or of a higher class,” says Stayton.

Talking about the racial inequality inherent to the Flint Water Crisis prompts the book club members to reflect on their own identities and assumptions, and to try to understand backgrounds that are different from theirs too.

“One of the first questions we asked was, ‘How do you think a black woman’s experience in STEM is different from just being a woman in science or just being a person of color?’” says Miller. “It’s encouraging to hear women who will eventually be making important decisions in STEM and doing important research talk about how to challenge systemic social issues.”

While the club was designed to create a sense of community for incoming first-year students, many of whom have yet to set foot on campus because of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, being remote and conducting the book club over Zoom has been unexpectedly beneficial. 136 incoming first-year students participated in the book club with 31 upper-class facilitators. “We wouldn’t be able to reach as many people from different backgrounds if the club were held in-person in Ann Arbor,” says Stayton. “Hearing those diverse perspectives and how crises similar to Flint have occurred in their hometowns has been really important.”

Miller explains that the informality of Zoom also enables conversations that some undergraduates might normally find intimidating. “Sometimes when you’re in a group of new people, it can be scary to really talk about feelings and viewpoints,” she says. “Being able to be on Zoom where we have the screen between us has empowered students to speak up.”

Though learning about racial injustice might seem unrelated to studying the hard sciences, the book club facilitators say that getting new students thinking about systemic racism and reflecting on their own backgrounds is vital—for the future of the field and for the greater good.

“Within WISE, we’re trying to change a largely male-dominated field,” says Stayton, “But it’s also a largely white field and we need to actively address that too. It’s really important to challenge our own biases, whether they’re intentional or implicit, because they can affect our research and findings. We need to challenge our idea of what a scientist looks like.”

 

What a Scientist Looks Like

As part of the Women in Science and Engineering Program, two undergraduates studying science at U-M are leading a virtual summer book club to get incoming first-year students thinking about racial justice in STEM.

“We were across the country, talking for the first very time. None of us had ever met,” says Madison Miller (B.S. ’22), a facilitator of a virtual summer book club sponsored by U-M’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program and LSA’s WISE Residential Program. Both WISE programs support women pursuing degrees and careers in STEM, and the residential program hosts a live-and-learn community for first-year students.

The book club, which started in July, welcomed small groups of incoming first-year students in WISE to meet every other week via Zoom. "At the beginning, I asked a few open-ended questions and was prepared to ask more,” says Miller, who studies biology and Spanish. “But everyone just started talking. I sat back and listened to this group of strangers open up about what it’s like to be a woman in science.”

For Elizabeth Stayton (B.S. ’21)—another book club facilitator triple-majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, environment, and biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience—supporting the newest members of the college community during the pandemic was especially important. “Everything is so crazy right now,” she says. “Being a first-year is already hard enough, but these students are extra unsure.”

The club also wants to educate new students about the value of fighting for racial justice within STEM. Along with facilitators like Miller and Stayton, the new students are reading What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha (B.S. ’98, M.P.H. ’08), a pediatrician whose discovery of lead poisoning in patients became part of the Flint Water Crisis. The book tells Hanna-Attisha’s struggle to advocate for her patients against biased legislation and systemic oppression, and her journey as an immigrant, a person of color, and a woman in the science world.

“We’re talking a lot about how the crisis affected racial minorities and people in poverty, and how it might have been under control a lot more quickly, or even prevented, if those impacted had been white or of a higher class,” says Stayton.

Talking about the racial inequality inherent to the Flint Water Crisis prompts the book club members to reflect on their own identities and assumptions, and to try to understand backgrounds that are different from theirs too.

“One of the first questions we asked was, ‘How do you think a black woman’s experience in STEM is different from just being a woman in science or just being a person of color?’” says Miller. “It’s encouraging to hear women who will eventually be making important decisions in STEM and doing important research talk about how to challenge systemic social issues.”

While the club was designed to create a sense of community for incoming first-year students, many of whom have yet to set foot on campus because of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, being remote and conducting the book club over Zoom has been unexpectedly beneficial. 136 incoming first-year students participated in the book club with 31 upper-class facilitators. “We wouldn’t be able to reach as many people from different backgrounds if the club were held in-person in Ann Arbor,” says Stayton. “Hearing those diverse perspectives and how crises similar to Flint have occurred in their hometowns has been really important.”

Miller explains that the informality of Zoom also enables conversations that some undergraduates might normally find intimidating. “Sometimes when you’re in a group of new people, it can be scary to really talk about feelings and viewpoints,” she says. “Being able to be on Zoom where we have the screen between us has empowered students to speak up.”

Though learning about racial injustice might seem unrelated to studying the hard sciences, the book club facilitators say that getting new students thinking about systemic racism and reflecting on their own backgrounds is vital—for the future of the field and for the greater good.

“Within WISE, we’re trying to change a largely male-dominated field,” says Stayton, “But it’s also a largely white field and we need to actively address that too. It’s really important to challenge our own biases, whether they’re intentional or implicit, because they can affect our research and findings. We need to challenge our idea of what a scientist looks like.”

 

Online Education

For members of the student group PULSE, social media is more than a tool to stay connected—it’s a way to educate and support the health of their community and fight injustice anywhere in the world.

In the winter 2020 term, the student group, PULSE, was planning to make a change. 

The group, which empowers U-M students to support their community and their personal well-being, had long been a part of Wolverine Wellness—a division of University Health Services. But PULSE was preparing to spin off on its own. 

The group would keep the same staff advisor and continue to partner with Wolverine Wellness on campaigns, but the change would allow them to put more emphasis on social justice. 

“By changing our mission to the intersection of health, wellness, and identity, we hoped to be able to be more thoughtful about how to better integrate equity and wellness,” explains LSA senior Mark Castañeda, co-president of PULSE. When campus unexpectedly went remote in the spring and they were separated over the summer, the group was determined to neither lose its momentum nor its focus. One way they managed to move forward was by using social media.

As PULSE’s secretary, LSA junior Kelly Bickel manages the group’s social media accounts. “They’ve been a great resource for staying connected during COVID,” Bickel says. 

Many social media platforms help the group handle logistics, but Bickel finds the photo and video sharing app Instagram keeps them connected. 

“At the beginning of the summer, we didn’t often post on Instagram,” Bickel says. “But when we saw the direction things could go in the fall, we realized we might not even be back on campus. We decided to really focus on establishing an Instagram presence because it felt important to have something stable and reliable to turn to. We might not be able to meet in person for our weekly Wednesday meetings, but we now have a weekly Wednesday post on Instagram at the very least.”

On Wednesdays—known to members of PULSE as Wellness Wednesdays—the group posts Instagram stories, a series of photos and videos curated for followers that vanish after 24 hours. The stories aim to address wellness through an equity lens. 

A post about healthy and budget friendly foods, for example, can address both wellness and equity. “Food scarcity was an issue at U-M before COVID, and, given everything that’s happened, it’s probably become even more pervasive,” Bickel says, “and we’re all always looking for something better than ramen. 

“We don’t shy away from hard issues because we want our followers to feel supported,” Bickel continues. “We want to give people resources to help them be the best they can be.”

In August, the group expanded their social media programming by launching what they call Speak Mindfully Saturdays as a way to encourage their followers to consider the power of their words. PULSE also works to cultivate empathy with Instagram takeovers, in which someone temporarily “takes over” the group’s Instagram account and shares pictures and video that give other followers a chance to see a situation from someone else’s perspective. “That was really popular,” Bickel says. “We were all in new and stressful situations because of COVID, and it helped us understand what other people were having to manage in their days.”

Castañeda and Bickel both believe social media has been key to the summer’s social justice movements. “Social media has really transformed the social justice, human rights, and political landscape of our times,” Castañeda says, “starting with the Arab Spring and going all the way to now and the Black Lives Matter movement. On Instagram in particular, people introduce information and resources directly to youth in a really aesthetically pleasing, easily understandable way. 

“With our accounts, for example,” Castañeda says, “Kelly has been really, really effective in taking a dense piece of information and distilling it into this little colorful square that says, ‘Hey, here's the simplest form of this idea, and here's where you can read more if you're interested.’ Maybe that’s all the information they get, but they're still learning something as they're just sitting there scrolling.

“The protests we saw in the spring and the summer have been going on for years,” Castaneda continues. “Whenever there’s been a new incident of police violence, you see the hashtag trend, and then it just dies down again. Our generation is trying to use social media to make sure the hashtag keeps rising. We don’t want to let these movements die until the injustice that started them ends.”

 

 

This article was written by LSA editorial staff writers Gina Balibrera, Susan Hutton, and Anna Megdell. 
Images by Becky Sehenuk Waite

Online Education

For members of the student group PULSE, social media is more than a tool to stay connected—it’s a way to educate and support the health of their community and fight injustice anywhere in the world.

In the winter 2020 term, the student group, PULSE, was planning to make a change. 

The group, which empowers U-M students to support their community and their personal well-being, had long been a part of Wolverine Wellness—a division of University Health Services. But PULSE was preparing to spin off on its own. 

The group would keep the same staff advisor and continue to partner with Wolverine Wellness on campaigns, but the change would allow them to put more emphasis on social justice. 

“By changing our mission to the intersection of health, wellness, and identity, we hoped to be able to be more thoughtful about how to better integrate equity and wellness,” explains LSA senior Mark Castañeda, co-president of PULSE. When campus unexpectedly went remote in the spring and they were separated over the summer, the group was determined to neither lose its momentum nor its focus. One way they managed to move forward was by using social media.

As PULSE’s secretary, LSA junior Kelly Bickel manages the group’s social media accounts. “They’ve been a great resource for staying connected during COVID,” Bickel says. 

Many social media platforms help the group handle logistics, but Bickel finds the photo and video sharing app Instagram keeps them connected. 

“At the beginning of the summer, we didn’t often post on Instagram,” Bickel says. “But when we saw the direction things could go in the fall, we realized we might not even be back on campus. We decided to really focus on establishing an Instagram presence because it felt important to have something stable and reliable to turn to. We might not be able to meet in person for our weekly Wednesday meetings, but we now have a weekly Wednesday post on Instagram at the very least.”

On Wednesdays—known to members of PULSE as Wellness Wednesdays—the group posts Instagram stories, a series of photos and videos curated for followers that vanish after 24 hours. The stories aim to address wellness through an equity lens. 

A post about healthy and budget friendly foods, for example, can address both wellness and equity. “Food scarcity was an issue at U-M before COVID, and, given everything that’s happened, it’s probably become even more pervasive,” Bickel says, “and we’re all always looking for something better than ramen. 

“We don’t shy away from hard issues because we want our followers to feel supported,” Bickel continues. “We want to give people resources to help them be the best they can be.”

In August, the group expanded their social media programming by launching what they call Speak Mindfully Saturdays as a way to encourage their followers to consider the power of their words. PULSE also works to cultivate empathy with Instagram takeovers, in which someone temporarily “takes over” the group’s Instagram account and shares pictures and video that give other followers a chance to see a situation from someone else’s perspective. “That was really popular,” Bickel says. “We were all in new and stressful situations because of COVID, and it helped us understand what other people were having to manage in their days.”

Castañeda and Bickel both believe social media has been key to the summer’s social justice movements. “Social media has really transformed the social justice, human rights, and political landscape of our times,” Castañeda says, “starting with the Arab Spring and going all the way to now and the Black Lives Matter movement. On Instagram in particular, people introduce information and resources directly to youth in a really aesthetically pleasing, easily understandable way. 

“With our accounts, for example,” Castañeda says, “Kelly has been really, really effective in taking a dense piece of information and distilling it into this little colorful square that says, ‘Hey, here's the simplest form of this idea, and here's where you can read more if you're interested.’ Maybe that’s all the information they get, but they're still learning something as they're just sitting there scrolling.

“The protests we saw in the spring and the summer have been going on for years,” Castaneda continues. “Whenever there’s been a new incident of police violence, you see the hashtag trend, and then it just dies down again. Our generation is trying to use social media to make sure the hashtag keeps rising. We don’t want to let these movements die until the injustice that started them ends.”

 

 

This article was written by LSA editorial staff writers Gina Balibrera, Susan Hutton, and Anna Megdell. 
Images by Becky Sehenuk Waite

 

 


 


 

From the Dean

LSA Dean Anne Curzan on the college's mission, vision, and values.
 

Flip the Script

Professor Trachette Jackson’s work optimizes the way doctors can use novel drugs to save patients’ lives.
 

Magician's Materials

On the trail of the lost work of fantastical filmmaker Georges Méliès.

 

 

 

Starting college looks a lot different this year for first-year students like J.J., with many courses and activities meeting online. The LSA Annual Fund provides support for tuition, room, and board, as well as the technology and tools necessary to connect to classes and campus. Your support means LSA students won’t miss a beat.


 

 

 

Email
Release Date: 10/26/2020
Category: Students; COVID
Tags: LSA; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Residential College; Afroamerican and African Studies; LSA Magazine; Susan Hutton; Program in the Environment; Women in Science and Engineering Residence Program; Anna Megdell; Gina Balibrera; Becky Sehenuk Waite; Women in Science and Engineering Program; Mobile Communications; Black Student Union