This school year proved tumultuous for race relations; seven antisemitic incidents occurred on campus, anti-Asian hate is on the rise nationally and the Black Lives Matter movement continues with solid momentum. In a year marked by heartbreak, confusion and anxiety, Michael Christy became the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) of the University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government (USG), and he has big plans to increase inclusivity and confront injustice in his new role.
On April 7, Christy, a fourth-semester political science major, took his oath of office before the USG Senate. Christy said that he is enthusiastic and ready to address student concerns as CDO.
“The campus deserves an individual who is going to be outspoken when it comes to injustices on campus, but more importantly, someone who is ready to take proactive measures so these events … don’t continue to happen. It’s time to create a campus culture that does not instill fear in students but rather hope and acceptance,” Christy said.
Christy said that he believes incidents targeting minority students, such as the recent antisemitism and the 2019 racial slurs shouted outside Charter Oaks, happen due to a lack of education. Christy said he intends to foster understanding among students by increasing education and training.
“So many of us fail to understand each other and our differences because we simply haven’t been exposed to this increasingly diverse environment developing at UConn. Many of us come from areas where we’ve only been around people who look and act like us. A lot of students experience culture shock,” Christy said. “When we have that lack of education and understanding, that’s when ignorance begins to settle in, and we begin to judge based off of appearance and assumptions, which often are not true. And within that, we become divided, and that’s when we begin to see these unacceptable events take place on campus. Education will be so important.”
Christy said that he and USG will achieve this through legislation and by “serving as a platform to uplift the voices of other identities” via social media collaborations with student organizations and clubs.
“Often [USG] likes to take over initiatives and take over the voices of students … rather than uplifting them and their platforms to the administration and the student body,” Christy said. “At the end of the day, USG is not going to have the answer for everything, but it’s going to be critical that USG uses its platform, if other students or organizations have the answer, to work in collaboration with them.”
Christy said this approach will be integral to how USG discusses the rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans across the country. Christy said that he will meet with international and Asian-American students to formulate the best response.
As CDO, Christy plans to expand mental health resources to students, create victim advocacy positions to assist sexual assault victims, modify public safety protocols on campus, tackle COVID-19 misinformation and reform bias incident reporting protocols within USG.
Christy said UConn must adapt to minority-student needs by hiring culturally competent and racially diverse counselors within Student Health and Wellness and creating cultural centers for the Native American community, Middle Eastern community and students with disabilities.
“Our student body is very diverse. There’s no question about it,” Christy said. “As those populations continue to grow, they are going to need places where they have resources based on how they identify so that they can have as best of an opportunity in their academic career to achieve great things.”
Christy began his work with USG as an Associate Justice on the Judiciary. He said he felt a need to pursue the role and increase diversity within USG.
“I saw a lack of representation on so many levels within USG, and it was my goal to show other BIPOC students that you can be represented,” Christy said.
“Never did I imagine that student leaders running to hold office would be attacked on the basis of their identity in the way B-Diaz was,” Christy said. “It was unfortunate and sad and disturbing to see that type of organized effort against an individual who was truly trying to seek a sense of diversity and inclusivity on campus in a different way than we’ve seen in the past. It was very hard to see that happen, and a lot of people I imagine were very frustrated and confused.”
Christy said that minority student leaders at UConn encounter harassment often.
“Over the past year, a lot of us have received a lot of hateful messages from peers and anonymous accounts because of the work we do,” Christy said. “I’ve been someone who was at the receiving end of microaggressions within USG where I’ve been told that I should resign from my position as a justice because I had ‘A biased view on race relations’ only because I was African-American and Hispanic.”
Christy said the ignorance and lack of education extend into USG. He hopes to transform USG’s culture into one where all students, regardless of identity, feel valued and respected.
“There’s no question that there are problems within USG,” Christy said. “After the year that we saw with USG, everyone has a lot of plans, and we have a lot of work to do to ensure that we are a better organization internally and externally. I am ready to work with President Holland, Vice President Werstler, the new Senate and the incoming governing board.”