The Central Campus Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Spirit Award program honors undergraduate students on central campus who best exemplify the leadership and extraordinary vision of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
OS senior Sarah Szalai, member of our OS Student Leadership DEI Team, was named a 2022 MLK Spirit Award Winner! Let's learn a little more about Sarah and her incredible acheivements.
Other Majors/Minors/U-M Activities: The Michigan Daily (Culture, Training, and Inclusion Chair), OS DEI Committee, Telling It, +LAB, optiMize
Outside UM interested: Involved with Allen Park Public Schools (founded RAE– Racial Awareness and Equity Task Force).
"I'm really passionate about the intersection between education, identity, and ways to make education and organizations equitable systemically and in day to day practice. This has led to approaching change from multiple angles -- grassroots organizing, community building, evaluating inequities in existing organizations, and building new ones."
What does DEI mean to you?
"To me DEI means deeply valuing our collective humanity, seeing where that humanity is not being honored, and doing something about it. It is relationship building, listening, seeing gaps, seeing the big picture, and seeing the day to day impact the work has on people. It is having clear personal definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion, how they are different, and how they intersect. It is valuing growth of the collective more than your individual impact. And above all, doing all of this fully engaged and rooted in compassion.
By challenging oppressive norms, uncovering opportunities to move towards justice, and focusing on community driven change, resources and people are unlocked and empowered to think bigger and take the next step. It is our job to lean in, acknowledge the past and the emotions it evokes, live in the present, and care for the future now, so that we can create a community and world that is engaged and awake, ready to take the next step."
How do you feel your work on DEI has impacted your college experience?
"DEI has transformed my college experience. It connected me with the most amazing, compassionate people and has been a common thread interwoven through my classes, conversations, and communities. By immersing yourself in the language and ideas surrounding DEI, it gave me a powerful and nuanced lens to approach all roles, organizations, and change processes. It made me realize the opportunity we each have to be change agents, regardless of our role or experience. Together, we can create space for change that reaches corners we have yet to envision."
What advice do you have for any students looking to get more involved with DEI related activities?
"Start where you are! Think deeply about the communities you are already a part of. In these spaces you already have the relationships and institutional knowledge needed to inform the work you are embarking on. Think and write about, what do you know about these communities? What do you love about that community? What shortcomings does the community have? Could something that you love about the community be hurting someone else in the community? Does everyone in the community have access to the things you love about it? These were questions that guided my work when I first jumped into building an organization focused on DEI, they may illuminate gaps that you didn't realize were there and give you a starting point for action.
Additionally, starting somewhere is better than being complacent. Change is messy, we aren't expected to be perfect. Lean on the people around you and know that you are capable and worthy, regardless of the outcome. Taking the first step is admirable and you don't have to have all the answers. Talk with other people, brainstorm ideas, and the picture will start to come together. And know that the vision forward will continually change, just like it's supposed to."
When Sarah isn't fully immersed in the U-M experience she enjoys watching the sunrise on Lake Huron, waterskiing, yoga, spending time with family and friends, and geeking out about positive organizational scholarship!