It Starts With MEek: Professor speaks about the importance of engaging with difference


Jennifer Stollman at the Overby Center at the Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

Georgia Williams
Oxford Stories

Meek School of Journalism and New Media students and faculty have organized a host of events that will be happening in the next few days. The various workshops and panels all target eliminating racism, sexism, homophobia, and a myriad of other types of discrimination on the UM campus and beyond.

“It Starts With MEek” utilizes the slogan: “Just pause.”  The event’s informational program reads: “Just pause before you assume you know me.  Just pause before you stereotype me.  That’s what we’re asking you to do for five days.”

This week’s events began Wednesday, April 19, with various professors and students expressing their opinions about the importance of promoting diversity within communities.

Jennifer Stollman, Ph.D., instructor and academic director of racial reconciliation for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, spoke Wednesday, April 19, in the Overby Center Auditorium about Making a Difference by Engaging in Difference.

Stollman said diversity is not a demand, but an opportunity.  Her position is dedicated to the project of equity and ending racial discrimination. She said engaging in difference is a necessity. Differences in race, gender, or sexuality have typically been used to divide people by diminishing our compassion.  However, Stollman believes engaging in difference can help our communities.

“Difference challenges us to fortify our own ideas,” she said, thus fortifying the value of a community as a whole. As an intellectual, she said one should never adhere to a lone ideology, experience, or school of thought. We, as people, must recognize our capability as complex creatures to engage in difference and appreciate the beauty in it.

I found this speech thought provoking. Our nation’s popular and political culture is constantly focusing on the negative aspects of difference. It is focused on why ethnic cultures unfamiliar to us are inherently “bad,” or why people who subscribe to different political or religious beliefs should not be collectively accepted.

I believe that engaging in difference is important because, as Dr. Stollman said, it can only help strengthen the intellect of those who are willing to do so.

As a college student in the 21st century, I have witnessed many prejudices, bias, and other divisive attitudes toward people who do not necessarily “fit in” with the university popular culture.  I applaud the Meek School for emphasizing the importance of diversity on this campus, and I look forward to attending more panels throughout the next five days.

Ashley Muller
Oxford Stories

As Dr. Jennifer Stollman began her presentation “Making a Difference by Engaging with Difference,” she almost immediately dove into one overhanging, yet crucial question: “What does it mean to be the best that you can be?”


Dr. Jennifer Stollman presenting her discussion regarding “making a difference.”

While the question may have been concise, it struck me upon impact. What does it mean to be my best self? Have I been working towards maximizing my potential? Have I stepped outside my comfort zone to engage in unfamiliar situations?

As Dr. Stollman said, in order to make a difference within society, we mustn’t “restrict our best selves to our tribes,” but rather “step out of our usual crazy spaces and paces and prepare ourselves for transformative change.”

Oftentimes, one restricts themselves subconsciously. In order to make an impact, regardless of what it may be, an individual must expand their own views and delve into differences beyond themselves.

Whether it’s comfortable or uncomfortable, human interaction forces us to face differences daily. The key to growing from these interactions is to challenge the different perspectives and form our own ideas from them.

Stollman said:

“If one is oppressed, we are all oppressed.”

“When we hurt others, we are hurting.”

“If we are doing the oppressing, we are also oppressed.”

These statements enacted me to maximize my intellect and take a moment to reflect on their underlying truth. In other words, I’ve already begun to utilize Dr. Stollman’s advice and step away from myself on an intellectual level.

When one is being victimized by a certain person or classified group by stereotype, they are being given an unfair advantage. Without being understanding of unique differences between humans, those who are unwilling to expand their mind are left with the grievances that come along with stereotyping.

Stereotyping causes countless other prejudices that cause harm towards targeted groups or individuals. Empathy is a way to avoid the impacts of racial, sexual, and overall ignorance towards others.

Looking beyond what we know to be true is not a task, but rather an opportunity to make a difference of our own. If one truly respects the dissimilarity between themselves and others, stereotyping seems to be denounced entirely.

One specific statement made by Dr. Stollman seemed to wrap up my present thoughts:

“The only way to enjoy the world is to engage with those who are different from us, because everybody is different from us.”

Without a close-minded perspective, anyone who is aiming towards making a societal difference is given a window of opportunity to engage in the ever-changing aspects of our human culture. By doing so, intellectual growth and understanding is nourished, leading to constant growth.

Madison Edenfield
Oxford Stories

Dr. Jennifer Stollman said we encounter differences every day, and two of the biggest examples are food and music.

Stollman said we are unfazed by these cultural differences, but all we need to do is to draw a link back to the people who created certain types of music and food.

She emphasized the need to pause before judging others, and said we must self-reflect to welcome diversity. In addition to pausing, Stollman also encouraged listeners to commit themselves to difference.

She said one can’t have more equity than another. By being an oppressor, you also become the oppressed. By hurting and oppressing others, we are hurting ourselves. We use stereotypes as a scapegoat for our own hurt.

We are constantly surrounded by differences that are not as intimidating, like making new friends. The world is full of diversity, but we must take the steps to engage. Once you engage in diversity, the world becomes more vibrant.

Engaging in diversity is not always easy and comfortable, Stollman warns, but we must be brave to make a difference. We must work through uncomfortable feelings and practice empathy. Stollman describes this as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and not putting them into your own.

She encouraged listeners to be conservative with their words and to listen meaningfully. It is important to listen and learn about difference rather than to react, she said. While engaging in diversity is not an easy path, it enriches the mind and spirit.

I enjoyed this lecture and learned a lot about the challenges of engaging diversity, and the art of pausing. I learned that engaging in difference is a two-way street and that we must be brave to make progress. After this presentation, I will work on challenging myself to grow as a person and expand my ideas by engaging in difference.

Reagan Smith
Oxford Stories

When our class was assigned to meet in the Overby Center for a speaker, I knew that it was going to be interesting. After finding out that the speaker was going to be talking about, “Making a Difference by Engaging with Difference,” I was immediately intrigued.

Beginning April 19, the Meek School of Journalism and New Media is hosting a weeklong event called “It Starts With Meek,” an event to remind students that one factor does not define who we are.

Dr. Jennifer Stollman said: “Meaningful words lead to meaningful change.” She said we must practice empathy to make positive changes.

She said: “Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, not putting your shoes on someone else. Empathy should be a natural instinct.”

For the remainder of the lecture, Stollman said every interaction with people is a chance to make a difference, and she encouraged the audience to make a positive difference.

“Making a difference is not a chore,” she said, which was a powerful way to end the lecture.

Addis Olive
Oxford Stories

The presentation was about learning about diversity, not trying to convince or force beliefs. Stollman said people should remember to pause before “you” speak to someone and not judge or stereotype. The easiest way to pause is to take a breath.

Instead of dividing and marginalizing, we should embrace human differences. Stollman said growth is experienced in many forms – enlightened epiphanies and sometimes painful solitude. People are much greater than they appear, and they offer us so much, but we cannot experience it unless we open our minds and spirits.

I really enjoyed Stollman’s speech. She addressed issues in a non-controversial way. I loved how she repeatedly addressed that judging someone was not politics, it’s personal. I’ve thought about that statement a lot since she said that, and I strongly agree. Stereotyping is personal, not politics.

Nancy Jackson
Oxford Stories


Speaker Jennifer Stollman during her “Making a Difference by Engaging with Difference” presentation. Photo by Nancy Jackson.

The Meek school of Journalism and New Media is in the middle of the “It Starts with Meek” campaign. I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Jennifer Stollman called “Making a Difference by Engaging with Difference.”

Stollman said engaging with people who are different is meant to be empowering and never to hinder a person. Pausing and stepping out of our comfort zones will make us better people. Celebrating and welcoming groups of people who are different help us become our best selves.

Stollman said encountering difference is inevitable. The world we live in is full of people of different races, socioeconomic statuses and religions. These differences help make the world vibrant.

The speaker brought up a lot of interesting points that I had not necessarily thought of before. The presentation was relevant to the world we live in today. Walking away from the presentation, I felt more educated and empowered.

The way Stollman addressed issues, such as race and inequality, made everyone in the audience stop and think about how they can be more inclusive, or a better person. By feeling like I was being talked to and not talked at, I kept an open mind throughout the presentation and enjoyed it.

Lydazja Turner
Oxford Stories

Hearing Dr. Jennifer Stollman was enlightening. This lecture was not what I expected. She began by speaking about other people’s perceptions of her and how they had affected her life.

She said she eventually began to realize other people’s ideas of her did not matter because they don’t live her life. They don’t live through her emotions, through her religion, or through her sexuality, and this was extremely relatable to me, because I feel as if every college student is dealing with finding themselves and with other people’s perceptions of them.

She said diversity can be as simple as food or clothing. That’s what most small children deal with, but when you get older, you have to deal with diversity in thought, sexualty, religion and politics. She said the best thing to do sometimes is pause. Pause and step out of your comfort zone, because that is the only way you can think in a different way and become you better self.

Nicole Henderson
Oxford Stories

Everyone at some point of their life matures and decides they want to make a difference in the world.  There were a lot of points that could be taken away from this lecture. One of them was being a good listener.

Being a good listener is the key to life, but some people only listen to respond and not understand. We must listen to understand what is going on around us.

In order to make a change, you need a plan – a plan that people will be willing to listen to. Also, when delivering and speaking, your word choice is very important. Use words that will have the best meaning and will be understandable. Using useless or hurtful words can backfire on you. Expressing your thoughts and differences can make a difference.


To make a difference, you must also engage in different lifestyles you may not feel comfortable with. Don’t limit yourself to the universal concept of things. It is good to explore and learn new things. Not everyone is going to experience things the way you have or handle situations the same way you will, and that is good.

The world is a beautiful thing to experience. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see their perspective on things. Don’t try and make everything fit into your world just because you are uncomfortable or you are not familiar. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s