Creating Spaces for Belonging with Amanda McLittle
Amanda McLittle, Director for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Michigan and licensed attorney, describes how the renovation of the multicultural lounges at the university are helping to create belonging for the people it represents and an opportunity to learn for everyone.
The University of Michigan’s multicultural lounges for students have a long history beginning with the Black Action Movement on campus in the 1970s. And Amanda McLittle is playing a prominent role in renovating them.
“How do we honor history and those who fought for these spaces? And how do we also honor the students who are with us now, honor the work that they're doing to contribute to these spaces because this work is still happening,” she said.
The first two lounges on the campus were built in 1971 and 1972, and today the University has 18 multicultural spaces that span multiple identities. They are working to renovate these spaces to feel more inclusive and educational for all students.
Growing up in an interracial household
McLittle’s background is one of the core reasons why she is so passionate about what she does today. Growing up, she remembered being very aware that other people didn’t look like her, and that people said her parent’s marriage wasn’t a good thing.
“I don’t remember a time when we didn’t talk about identity,” she said.
McLittle’s parents fought hard for equity and belonging in their own spaces, and her mother instilled in her a belief that she could have whatever future she wanted.
Today, McLittle gets to pour into students in the same way that her parents poured into her, encouraging and empowering them to believe they can accomplish anything they want to.
“I joke with both of my parents that this truly was what they were raising me to do. I'm so appreciative because I feel like I'm exactly where I should be,” she said.
From law school to higher education
Amanda began her career in law, influenced heavily by her father’s calling to support people through systems, she felt like she was raised to be a lawyer.
“I went to law school partly because I thought it was what I was called to do, and partly because I wanted to prove everyone wrong,” she said.
After passing the bar exam on her first try, McLittle started her practice in criminal defense. However, this didn’t feel like the right job for McLittle.
“It didn't feel like I was helping people navigate through systems that impacted their life in the way that I wanted,” she said. “The system also wasn't ready.”
So McLittle transitioned towards higher education, and her career at the University of Michigan has allowed to make the impact she believes will positively change the system.
“I really felt like higher education would allow a focus on that, a focus on education, a focus on influence, a focus on supporting people through systems, helping other people understand systemic oppression and how people navigate systems differently. And one of the things that I really loved about higher ed is you could influence people who were about to go change the world,” she said.
The impact of the multicultural lounges
Creating these spaces for everyone to feel included can be a daunting task, and mistakes are both inevitable and part of the process. McLittle spoke about times where she has designed things for the lounge and gotten them wrong, and how she went about fixing her mistake.
“There were times when I wanted to get defensive and take it personally. And then I realized this is actually an amazing opportunity to make it better,” she said.
These lounges are not only creating room for students today to feel belonging, but is history in the making for future generations to come. They are a part of a long history of struggle and hardship, of joy and celebration.
“Even though there's a lot of painful history that we have to recognize, we also really want it to be about celebration. And for them finding their story in the space for them, feeling like they're included,” she said.
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