Student leaders discuss their perspectives of Miami

FIU student leaders, faculty and staff converge for a My Miami Story conversation.

FIU students, faculty, and staff share their Miami stories and discuss the community issues they care about most.

What brought you to Miami? What keeps you here? What challenges in our community do you care about most? How can we work together to cultivate solutions? These are the questions FIU students answered as they gathered in FIU’s Office of Engagement for a My Miami Story conversation Oct. 23.

Each year, The Miami Foundation encourages members of the Miami Dade community to host gatherings over lunches, dinners and cafecito breaks to facilitate connections, spark ideas, and think about what we can do to make our community better. FIU students, faculty and staff from different towns in Florida, the United States, and the globe gathered to share their Miami stories and unique perspectives on where Miami is today as a community.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from their conversation:

1. Many student leaders came to Miami because of FIU. They stayed because of the relationships they developed and fostered and the unique culture they found.

2. Miami is a bubble of unique privilege, different from anywhere else in the United States. Students who come from outside the bubble recognize what a privilege it is to live in Miami, sheltered away from some of the common challenges minorities face elsewhere in the United States. However, they run into challenges when expressing the situations they’ve experienced as a minority in the United States to their Miami-born and raised colleagues and friends.

“If you look at FIU’s community, we are actually a minority serving institution. It doesn’t feel like we’re minorities here. But if we go anywhere else, many of us would not exist the same way, have the same space, or have the same privileges and freedoms that we have here,” said Patrick J. Wright III, a senior majoring in psychology and philosophy.

3. The United States could benefit from Miami’s experience with diversity. When Miamians leave their bubble, they immediately recognize the difference in how minorities are treated elsewhere. Students mentioned feeling a separation and clash of races when they’ve traveled out of state. While the Miami bubble protects them, they fear it shelters our community from gaining a drive to improve diversity and inclusion in other cities. They expressed their hope of challenging themselves to understand and advocate for minorities, showing other communities the possibilities that exist when we allow cultures to collide.

4. Miami is a diverse city with an abundance of cultures, and students love it. People from all over the world have settled here in Miami, allowing students to meet people with different perspectives.

5. The city is young and going places. We don’t have the challenge of legacies and established families. If you have a good game plan, you can make a name for yourself here.

6. While Miami is a great place to start a business, it’s not a great place to scale. Many student leaders, who have engaged with Startup FIU, had unique perspectives into the local ecosystem. Miami startups focus on creating businesses that provide solutions to community challenges. Entrepreneurs use business models that have never been tested before to create positive change. While there are an abundance of challenges for entrepreneurs to address, the ecosystem does not currently support startups in scaling their business. People may start here, but they move on very quickly.

“In Venezuela, you are taught that there are certain business models that work, and if you work hard enough you may be able to provide better service. That’s basically all I knew. Something I was introduced to, through StartUP FIU and FIU in general, was that you can use your work ethic to solve problems that have never been solved before through business models that have never been tested. That’s why you see so many startups being born here in Miami,” said Stefano Gasperini, a junior in the College of Business.

7. Although a global city, many international students at FIU struggle to find internships and employment in Miami. Some international students have lived in Miami for nearly a decade, but do not have residency, a challenge that prevents them from accessing internships and employment. Many jobs available require residency or citizenship, with no need for sponsorship. One student found that more than 50 percent of internships she looked into had these requirements. To create opportunities for fellow international students, FIU student leaders want to challenge Miami’s universities and colleges to take action and develop intentional partnerships with employers who are known for hiring international talent.

8. Sometimes Miami is hyper focused on the Cuban American experience, eclipsing the other important ethnic and cultural groups who are part of the fabric of Miami. Whereas other groups have enclaves in pockets of Miami, Cuban culture is found to be embedded throughout Miami. While we are diverse, the cultures rarely mix and mingle. It’s a little known fact that our original charter was signed by Bahamians. When our community talks about issues and challenges, including Latinx, we don’t talk about the Caribbean. There’s Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and many other countries that have been forgotten in important conversations.

“There are so many other cultures and so many other people trying to grab onto any piece of the American pie they can, but it’s disproportionately dispersed in this city,” said Kiesha Moodie, director of Social Innovation at FIU’s Office of Research and Economic Development.

9. The FIU family cares about ensuring people have access to education and opportunities. From assisting foster children to helping individuals stuck in low skill jobs, FIU students, faculty and staff are assisting people in their journey to find access to opportunities. They are doing this by educating the next generation, working with FIU Teach to serve under resourced communities, and developing programs to assist and empower those with low skill jobs to find high paying opportunities. The students agreed that there are many people in our community who could be doing amazing things if they were given the chance.

10. FIU students are ready to take action! The students shared that storytelling is one of the best ways they can contribute to positive change in the community. By taking part in activities like My Miami Story, they can continue to bring light and intentionally direct light on issues that many people are facing. FIU students expressed an interest in holding a larger conversation on Miami’s challenges with the FIU student body in the hopes of empowering their peers and letting them know their voices matter.

“Yeah, I’m 21, and I’m a student — but my voice matters, and I have the power to change something,” said Chantelle Mnayarji, a senior in the  College of Business.

What is your Miami story? Share in the comments.