U-M senior, Quynh Tran, discusses her experiences as a minority student and ally on campus and actions for creating positive change for people of color.
Interview conducted by Grant Floto
#UMSocial Intern and University Of Michigan Class of 2020
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you were interested in doing this podcast.
My name is Quynh; I’m a rising senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’m studying BCN [Biopsychology, Cognition and Neuroscience] with a minor in Gender and Health, and I’m also a sister in an Asian-interest sorority here on campus called Alpha Kappa Delta Phi. I’m excited to be a part of this podcast because I think it’s super important to have these difficult conversations because really it just opens doors for change, which is something our nation really needs. I’m glad that this podcast is giving U-M students the opportunity to speak out and be heard.
Q: What is some of the advocacy that you’ve been part of and how has this climate affected you recently?
A lot of my advocacy work right now is really just learning and being more educated on the issues around me and just working to understand the ways that I can use the privilege that I hold as a Vietnamese-American woman to speak out on injustices, not only in my community, but in other communities around me.
I think the best decision that I’ve made as a student was to pick up a minor in Gender and Health, because the way our Women’s Studies Department has shown so much compassion for students has really opened my eyes and made me more cognizant of the way that I leave my mark on the community.
“By taking these classes, I started to understand and find my sense of self, and learn to use my voice to amplify the voices that might not have been heard before.”
A lot of my advocacy work is really just sharing as much info as I can on my social media and having important conversations, like this one, with my friends and family. I can’t just sit back and watch these things happen.
Right now I’m taking a class called “Gender, Race, and Incarceration” and especially during this current climate, I feel like this class has opened my eyes to how the system works, and the impact on people who are marginalized by the system.
Q: U-M being a predominantly white school, what have been some conversations in the Asian community regarding recent events in the U.S. and being an ally for the black community?
I feel like it’s not widely talked about in the Asian community, and especially right now, it’s really difficult. I’m going to be honest, growing up in a traditional Asian-Viet family, it’s really hard to have conversations like these because it just never gets talked about. In my experience, at least, my parents and sisters have always cared about my future. They’ve always supported my educational goals. And obviously my academics are a huge part of who I am, so usually a lot of our conversation is just about where I am and where I’m headed. When things like racism or social injustice or social inequalities come up, it’s often pushed under the rug because, in their mindset, it’s not affecting us, so why should we even talk about it? Why should we care?
And my parents are from a different generation. They’ve seen hard things and have done so much to get my sisters and me where we are today. The conversation around freedom and inequalities can be triggering for them. I just want to reiterate that, even though this is the case, it’s really important to have these conversations.
Q: There were protests in Ann Arbor on the Diag, in Detroit, Flint, all over the state and around the country. What do you think the impact on campus might look like for next year at Michigan?
There have been so many protests going on and I’m happy that people are taking to the streets and speaking out for what they believe in. That’s definitely something that we need to see around this time. But in terms of how that’s going to affect campus, I think the biggest problem that we face on campus is: who is standing and supporting the movement and who is sitting back and watching? It’s super important to all stand together.
“One way to stand up for this movement is to educate yourself.”
Not a lot of people know why we’re doing this. It’s more than protests and riots. It’s fighting to dismantle a system that discriminates based on the color of your skin, period. If we all work together and all stand together, hopefully we can support and uplift each other, whether it’s on or off campus.
Q: As a person of color and part of a minority group, what do you think are some of the biggest problems that you face on campus? What are some things that you think U-M does well or doesn’t do well?
I’m glad that U-M has released a statement about our current climate, and that our leaders are addressing and standing in solidarity with the black community. But it’s more than just saying something. It’s more about what they are doing to support.
We need to see change somewhere. I think it’s important for us to allocate the resources that we have for black students and students of color. We need to make sure that they feel safe and heard on campus.
Q: What was the transition like coming from such a diverse high school to going to U-M ?
I graduated from East Kentwood High School and I think it’s the number one most diverse high school in Michigan. In high school, I was always exposed to conversations about the one happening today. I never really tried to find my “community” because it was so diverse. We all understood each other and took pride in our diversity.
My freshman year at U-M, I was so focused on school and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t part of an Asian community. And I thought: “What am I doing if I’m not also speaking up for other people?” So I joined an Asian-interest sorority last year, Alpha Kappa Delta Phi. One of our pillars is Asian awareness, which is really integral to who we are. Not only are we aware of our own identities, but we’re also using the privilege that we have to have open conversations about this to support other identities. Right now we’re doing a fundraiser for The Bail Project and we are standing with the black community always.
Q: Do you have any final messages that you would like to share?
Yes, absolutely. I know I’m all over social media about this, but we need you to sign petitions, we need you to donate money. If you can’t donate money, there’s a video on YouTube that you can stream that generates ad revenue. Share news and share authentic videos, educate yourself. There are a lot of books out there and, if you’re not a book person, there are movies and documentaries for you to watch. Learn more so that you can have these conversations.
Whenever you see or hear someone who has a different opinion than you, don’t shut them down. Have the uncomfortable conversation. I read this somewhere, “If you want to change something, you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.” When someone says something racist, check them in a nice and informative way. Staying silent is being complicit to racism.
Take care of your mental health, take care of yourself, take a break from social media. I know it’s super hard, but take a mindful breath. Go outside, relax your shoulders. We get so tense. Drink some water, eat some fruit, go to bed, go take a nap. We need to be healthy because we need to fight. This is more than just protesting for a couple of days; it’s not going to go away next week.
I stand with y’all and I support you guys. I’m doing my best to educate myself and the people in my community. I will continue to share the resources that I have and find with y’all.