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ECE honors Spirit Day 2019

Faculty, students, and staff came together in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community for the world-wide anti-bullying campaign.

Willingale and Thornton at Spirit Day Enlarge
Prof. Louise Willingale and ECE PhD Coordinator Kristen Thornton show their support during Spirit Day 2019.

ECE hosted its 3rdannual Spirit Day event to promote a more inclusive, compassionate environment for students, staff and faculty. Spirit Day is a world-wide anti-bullying campaign designed to raise awareness about the challenges and issues faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“When living your day to day life, these issues likely aren’t in the forefront of your mind,” said Sabrina Benge, a master’s student in ECE who helped facilitate the event. “Events such as Spirit Day remind everyone to be compassionate and kind to one another as well as bring about conversation for change.”

This year, Spirit Day occurred on October 17th. In partnership with the Office of Student Affairs, ECE staffed tables in the EECS Atrium and handed out information on different resources available on campus to support the LGBTQ+ members of our campus community. There was also a photo station where people could get their photo for social media as an additional way to show they stand with the LGBTQ+ community.

“This day means a lot to me, as there is a stigma for the LGBTQ+ community within STEM, and I want our students to know that they belong in Engineering, and especially in ECE,” says Kristen Thornton, ECE PhD Graduate Coordinator and main organizer of the event. “I am delighted that have been able to help plan the Spirit Day events since 2017, and each year I feel a sense of pride on how our students come together to show their support.”

Spirit Day roundtable Enlarge
The Spirit Day roundtable is an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to come together and share their experiences and learn from one another.

The main event was a roundtable discussion facilitated by members of Graduates Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (GO STEM). GO STEM is a student organization that’s mission is to provide a space for LGBTQ+ graduate students and post-doctoral researchers at the University of Michigan to connect, share experiences, and learn from one another.

“When I was sitting on the panel speaking to professors, students, and staff, I was beaming with happiness that so many people want to make the university more inclusive,” Benge said. “Attendance and participation are what bring about change.”

The roundtable was open to anyone to attend, including those who do not identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. The discussion provided a platform for attendees to express their stories and advise allies on ways to better support the community.

“This was important to me, because while my social circle includes LGBTQ+ members, they are of a different generation,” said Jessy Grizzle, the Elmer G. Gilbert Distinguished University Professor, Jerry W. and Carol L. Levin Professor of Engineering, and Director of Michigan Robotics, who attended the roundtable discussion. “I learned how to be a better ally to younger people.”

Student use yarn for an interactive icebreaker during the Spirit Day roundtable. Enlarge
Student use yarn for an interactive icebreaker during the Spirit Day roundtable.

One of the common suggestions was for everyone, regardless of how they identify, to list their personal pronouns in their e-mail signature or on the website directory. The assumption that everyone identifies as either she/her/hers or he/him/his excludes those who identify as non-binary (they/them/theirs). It can also be harmful to transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming people, who are often misgendered due to assumptions based on their appearance or name. Including one’s personal pronouns, even if they identify as cis and binary, shows solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. Students also encouraged faculty to include statements of their commitment to DEI on class syllabi and websites.

“I think that as an out gay male, an event like Spirit Day is very important to the CoE – ECE LGBTQ+ student, faculty, and staff community,” said Johnny Linn, ECE MS Graduate Coordinator, who helped plan the event. “It shows that the College of Engineering supports all the colors of the rainbow that students bring!”

The roundtable ended with attendees saying what action they can take moving forward. Many allies expressed that they will work to bring more allies to events like this as a way to encourage listening and understanding.

See more photos.


ECE welcomes students of all nationalities, cultures, identities, and backgrounds. We are proud of the diverse communities that are represented by our students, alumni, faculty, and staff, and we are committed to recognizing and celebrating that diversity. For information and resources on how ECE and U-M support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, check out our Outreach & Diversity page.

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