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MU fails to embrace I Am Miami campaign

For all its publicity, the I Am Miami campaign has not made the impact administrators hoped it would. ASG Student Body President Cole Tyman said this is because of the top-down approach the university has taken in implementing the campaign.

Students point out flaws, say administration's top-down approach kept campaign from catching on

By Olivia Braude, For The Miami Student

The administration-born I Am Miami initiative, aimed at encouraging students to embrace values of love and honor, has failed to gain traction with a large portion of the student body since its launch.

The I Am Miami initiative, a university-wide effort to describe the common values of the Miami community, began last year with the convocation of the class of 2017. It is based on the Code of Love and Honor, which encompasses qualities of the Miami community such as respect, integrity, acceptance and responsibility.

I Am Miami started strong - plastered on the walls in the Armstrong Student Center, passed out on holographic cards, presented to the student body at school functions - but has since seemed to fizzle, leaving many students, especially upperclassmen, who did not begin their time at Miami learning about the initiative, confused or unaware of its existence entirely.

"I think the biggest problem with it is that upperclassmen weren't really standing behind the campaign and perpetuating it," said Associated Student Government (ASG) Secretary for Public Relations Allison Gnaegy.

In fact, students were not behind the formation of the initiative at all, it was created by the administration, then presented to the student community. This raised concerns from the student government, ASG Student Body President Cole Tyman said.

Tyman is the only student member on the I Am Miami committee, along with representatives from different departments throughout the university.

"Yes, I am the elected voice of the student body, but at the same time I am one student with one experience," Tyman said. "I am a white male on this campus. That's a lot different than some of these students who feel that there's a stereotype and don't feel like they're included in it."

Another problem with the initiative, Tyman said, has to do with the wording. I Am Miami is seen by some students as individualistic, which combats the notion of the initiative - to establish a greater sense of togetherness.

When I Am Miami was initially presented to the community, people started asking questions and no one seemed to have definitive answers, so they became skeptical, Tyman said.

He said overall, faculty, staff and students agree to what I Am Miami stands for - respect, dignity, honor and tradition - but Tyman was not easily convinced the I Am Miami initiative was the best way to portray these values, especially because no students were involved in creating the initiative in the first place.

"Right now, it's currently still in the ownership of student affairs and it needs to become a student-run initiative. I think that's the most important part," Gnaegy said.

According to Gnaegy and Tyman, ASG hopes to bring the initiative to the students, empowering them to take ownership of the values within the Code of Loveand Honor.

ASG plans to develop a fund for students and student organizations that hold events reflecting the I Am Miami ideals. The idea is to incorporate the values Miami students hold into big events in order to foster a deeper sense of what it means to be a part of this community.

"This is an amazing institution and so everyone that goes here should feel that they have some role in making Miami as amazing as it is and that's why I am Miami is important," Tyman said. "That's why the spirit of I Am Miami is something we should promote."

Jayne Brownell, the Vice President for Student Affairs and a member of the I Am Miami committee, agreed students are the key to the initiative's success.

"I really do believe it is not going to be part of the culture until students define it for themselves," Brownell said.

When speaking with the incoming class of 2018, Brownell challenged them to take responsibility for I Am Miami and what it means to belong to the university community.

This means standing up for what is right and trying to fix what it wrong, enacting change where change is necessary and inspiring others to do the same.

At convocation, students received holographic cards with the Code of Love and Honor, as well as pins. They also received shirts with the code. I Am Miami was integrated into the first-year bonfire and pep rally through speeches.

It has not received sustained attention, however, throughout the rest of the year.

According to Gnaegy, underclassmen received the I Am message, a pin and were told this is how we conduct ourselves here, but they weren't really seeing it on campus.

One area exists that has outshined the others in promoting the I Am Miami values, according to Deedie Dowdle, associate VP for university communications and marketing and an I Am Miami committee member.

Miami's athletic department has taken several steps to present this challenge to student-athletes, including a KNH class that teaches students about I Am Miami, as well as a bystander training program called Step Up, run by the Hawks Peer Health educators to teach intervention skills for risky situations where college students may find themselves. Such situations include preventing potential sexual assault or alcohol poisoning.

Jennie Gilbert, an I Am Miami committee member in athletics, stressed the education aspect of I Am Miami: teaching students intervention skills and embracing cultural differences to create an inclusive environment.

Although the initiative has taken off within the athletic department, it has not garnered as much change within other departments on campus.

A misconception about who is responsible for moving the initiative forward - students or administration - is slowing the process down.

Dowdle said the administration's efforts can only go so far.

"What is missing is the participation of student organizations, which is essential to inculcate a culture shift and ongoing internal awareness," Dowdle said.

Brownell echoed her words.

"We don't want it to be an administrative mandate. It doesn't help for me to tell you that you are Miami," she said. "You have to feel it yourself."

But, according to Tyman, the administration needs to communicate with the student body in order for I Am Miami to be successful.

Student leaders and organizations have a major role to play in the I Am Miami initiative, according to Tyman.

So far, though, these leaders have not been invited by administration to come to understand exactly what this is.

He said, while ASG supports the initiative and will relay the message to students, the administration has to be active as well.

"Ultimately, we work for the student body, not the university," Tyman said. "If the university wants something out there, they can't expect that we're just going to take care of it for them."

ASG is willing to spearhead the efforts by establishing the I Am Miami fund as well as having a kick-off event, which, Gnaegy said, could be something like bringing a panel of Miami alumni to share their experiences at Miami and what it means to them to be a part of the Miami community.

As for now, Gnaegy said, "I am Miami" is a buzzword, not yet taking on a meaning of its own. Its success will require collaboration between administration and students, something Brownell described as a "balancing act" with ultimately the same goal: the Miami community taking ownership of the initiative's values.

"I have heard students say, 'We didn't start it,'" Brownell said, "but it's yours to take, it's yours to evolve, and that is when there will be success."