Daily highlights power of community and expression through U-M heritage months

Photo of performers at the BHM opening ceremony

May 6, 2024  |  By Nick Pfost

Throughout the year, the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs (MESA) has joyfully celebrated and supported University of Michigan students through its signature heritage months and grants program. Partnering with students, staff, and faculty across campus, MESA hosted and supported events that honored diverse cultural heritages, educated members of campus, and connected students from all backgrounds, creating community and fostering belonging. 

In addition to leading U-M's Latinx Heritage Month, Native American Heritage Month, Black History Month, Arab Heritage Month, and Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, MESA was a presenting co-sponsor of U-M Pride Month, led by Spectrum Center. And through its grants program, MESA also provided funding for over one hundred U-M student organization events that promote social justice education through the lens of race and ethnicity. 

In its coverage this year, The Michigan Daily highlighted slices of these events. 

Fall semester

The academic year kicked off with Latinx Heritage Month, "We Are Here: A Celebration of Community, Pride, and Life!" The Daily interviewed program manager Ruby Flores Camacho and student Daisy Ruiz on the month overall and opening ceremony, which included a keynote by bestselling author Sonora Reyes, plus music, dance, and a community meal. 

"Having this space for us to celebrate each other and our keynote speaker, and what we've done here at the university—and continue to grow—is really impactful," Ruiz reflected. 

Keynoter Sonora Reyes concluded their remarks to attendees with a powerful message: "I know it's not always safe for all of us to be seen and heard, so we might not be ready to take up space in this moment. But know that, even if you're not ready to shout, sometimes it's the whispers that make the biggest difference. Our stories are worth telling. And our lives are worth living. We are worthy of joy and acceptance and love and love and love. We are here."

Other Latinx Heritage Month events included the Dia De Los Muertos Ball, a community altar opening, Tres Leches cake sale, collaboration with Spectrum Center, Wallenberg Lecture, and more.

In October, the Daily also spotlighted Central Student Government's cultural fair, which was supported in part by a MESA student organization grant.

Native American Heritage Month—in November—saw a variety of community programming, including art exhibits, public talks, a live podcast recording, and teach-in, all focusing on aspects of Native American life, history, and culture. MESA co-sponsored the Native American Studies program's Robert J. Berkhofer Lecture featuring best-selling author and indigenous storyteller Angeline Boulley, covered by the Daily.

"Our stories are best told when we are deciding,” Boulley—an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians—told attendees. “I had a mantra during that 10 years of writing and revising that I still live by now. I write it to preserve my culture, and I edit it to protect it.”

Other November events included the Fall Feast, Heather Bruegl, and a celebration of NASA at 50 years.

Winter semester

In February, Black History Month boasted over 40 events, including a panel of Black professionals, a seminar on Black expression with Dr. Wilson Okello, performances and screenings, an expo, community gatherings, and more. Its theme, "Empowering Generations: Past, Present, Future," was inspired by the "importance of innovative artistic expression echoed throughout generations."

MESA's Black History Month Opening Ceremony brought together a broad group of partners including SIBS, Black Student Union, Trotter Multicultural Center, Spectrum Center, Housing Diversity & Inclusion, Rackham Graduate School, and Central Student Government. The Daily highlighted the gathering, which included remarks from Deidre D.S.SENSE Smith, a lecturer in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, plus live music, food, and performances from some of U-M's Black student organizations. 

Prior to the event, MESA program manager Jamie Carter told the Daily, “Tonight is going to be about the creativity of student performers, to showcase what they have to offer and also showcase how (the) arts, how creativity, brings humans together and brings our students together.”

March and April brought Arab Heritage Month and Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month. While the former is marked nationally April 1-30 and the latter May 1-31, MESA recognizes the months during the winter semester while most students are still on campus. And Pride Month, celebrated nationally in June, is held in April at U-M. 

During Arab Heritage Month, the Daily spotlighted "LGBTQ+ Intersectionality and Activism," a talk by Umayyah Cable, assistant professor of American culture and film, television, and media. The event was hosted by the Arab Student Association. 

Arab Heritage Month, "Our Strength: Celebrating Arab Culture," also included events led by the UM-Dearborn Center for Arab American Studies, Arab Business Society, National Arab Medical Association, Epsilon Alpha Sigma International Sorority Inc., The Program on Intergroup Relations, and Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.

Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, with a Mitski-inspired theme of "Mine All Mine," kicked off with an art fair covered by the Daily, and was followed later by a public talk by poet Hieu Minh Nguyen—in collaboration with Spectrum Center's Pride Month—and a dozen and a half other events.

Nguyen told people in attendance: "I used poetry for the longest time to talk about my own life and how I wanted people to understand my story, but I realized I can also use poetry as a way to understand other people as well.” The idea amplified a theme that had grown organically throughout the year—the critical importance of community and the transformative powers of expression.

In April, U-M Pride Month garnered national attention for Pride Prom, as well as coverage of a queer art showcase that served as the month's kickoff event. MESA co-sponsored Pride Month alongside Rackham Graduate School and Michigan Engineering's Office of Culture, Community, and Equity.

Throughout the school year—and amid daunting challenges in our communities here and around the world—these occasions, events, talks, meals, gatherings, and performances helped foster critical hope, belonging, understanding, and pride—bringing students together and co-creating opportunities to celebrate culture and heritage; learn about and from one another, and make the University of Michigan community a more just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive place. 


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