New UMC Chair Jerome Byam hopes to educate Penn students about racial stereotyping. Like all Penn students, College junior Jerome Byam tries to be careful when he walks through West Philadelphia's streets at night, staying on well-lit sidewalks and keeping an eye on the nearest blue-light phone. But unlike many of his classmates, the new United Minorities Council chairperson sometimes draws an unusual reaction from other students as he heads down Spruce Street. "I've seen white Penn students cross the road," Byam said. "It's weird to be in a situation where people perceive me as a mugger." Byam said he has dealt with these types of racial stereotypes and prejudices throughout his life -- and it is largely due to these experiences that he wants to work to educate students about stereotypes during his tenure as the leader of the UMC. Born in Guiana, raised in Trinidad and Toronto, Byam has been increasing awareness about minority issues in the political arena since his high school days in Canada when he founded the African Caribbean Canadian Association at his school. "In a school of about 1,000, there were about 20 black students," Byam said. "We just wanted to educate people." While the racial breakdown at Penn is not as severe as it was at his high school, Byam still thinks there is a lack of cultural awareness across the University. As UMC chair, he says he will strive to attack these cultural and racial issues head on. "The way to break down racism is to break down peoples' perceptions," Byam said. Byam has been a member of the Caribbean American Students Association for over a year. And despite his active involvement with the Caribbean American Student Association and the UMC, student government is not his only passion at Penn. A Biological Basis of Behavior major, Byam is interested in pursuing a career in neuropsychology, which he says will allow him to study the relationship between the brain and other aspects of the body. "It allows me the opportunity to deal with patients and do research into the functioning of the brain," he added. But when this pre-med student's brain wears down from cracking the books, he heads to the pool for swim team practice. "During the time you spend in the pool, your mind is completely clear, it helps you re-evaluate the day," said Byam, who swims the 50-meter free-style among other events. And Byam will need a clear mind to survive his upcoming year on the UMC. He is taking up the reins after outgoing Chairperson Chaz Howard's two terms and will have to work with a range of minority groups and other student government organizations on campus. According to College junior Hoa Duong, the outgoing chairperson of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, Byam is committed to the job and is already working to educate himself about the issues facing various minorities. "I can personally vouch for [Byam's] character and leadership ability," Duong said. Duong added that Byam has "already taken steps to find out more about what's happening in various minority communities," such as meeting with minority student leaders and going to various minority student group meetings.Comments powered by Disqus
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