By invitation, I recently participated in an inaugural summit called the “Intercollegiate Diversity Congress” at the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation. I attended in my capacity as Student Body President at Michigan State University. Dedicated to indexing testimonies in our world history, the Foundation currently has stocked more than 55,000 video testimonies, a bulk of them that particularly expound on the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide. The Foundation’s work in compiling these stories serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a story to tell and a narrative that we live. Our stories cannot be taken away from us, nor invalidated by someone else’s poor policy proposals in a position of political power.
The summit hosted over 20 student leaders from around the country to brainstorm and strategize how we can foster a better culture of active listening with one another and the power of storytelling that follows. Most importantly, we discussed what it means to arrive at disagreement in dialogue in a civil manner, which is especially important in these polarizing times. I could not be more thankful to have been a part of this conference, considering our desperate societal need to reach out and listen to our peers, whether we agree with them or not.
Through my work at the Michigan League for Public Policy, I have already seen the power of storytelling influencing the ways in which policy faces scrutiny, feedback, and even an end without moving on through the legislative process. A notable example is the consistent measures taken by Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Our ability to push back on the efforts of repealing healthcare through Congress was largely surrounded by discourse by fellow Americans on how the changes would affect their personal health, or someone they loved.
Another challenge to our society, but seemingly less controversial than healthcare, is jobs. One of the participants of the conference was a student leader from West Virginia University. His sentiments during a session of the conference referenced the stereotypes about coal jobs in his home state. While he mentioned that West Virginia largely supported President Donald Trump because of his unwavering support of the coal industry, he indicated that many individuals have expressed interest to find other jobs outside of the coal industry. However, due to a lack of education and other employers for the state, many of these workers are limited to believe their working potential is strictly within the coal industry.
It seemed to be that individuals in his state were largely fooled by politicians to believe that the best route forward continues to be in the coal industry, even at a time when China and other world superpowers are pulling back from this age-old natural resource. Though Michigan’s industries are different from West Virginia’s, we, too, face challenges in job growth. Specifically with respect to Michigan’s economy, we continue to see a need for greater state support to fund our higher education programs that encourage more individuals to obtain higher diplomas and degrees.
As individuals, we must continue personalizing our politics, and understand that every decision taken by elected officials will affect someone else differently. If we’re able to better understand and listen to the needs of voices, like blue collar laborers who are led to believe their industry is going to survive beyond generations, or the ones that are living on food assistance and face threats from the state with little funding support going forward, we might be able to make a change to support the overall well-being for our state’s economy.
— Lorenzo Santavicca, Intern