Staff Spotlight: Erin Byrnes

Our staff spotlight this week is Erin Byrnes. Erin works at the Ginsberg Center as the Lead for Democratic Engagement and the Big Ten Voting Challenge. 


What is your professional background in?
I attended U-M Dearborn for undergrad and received my Masters of Education from City University of New York. My professional experience started as a middle school special education teacher in Brooklyn, NY. I worked for several years with middle school students and then moved back to Michigan, and have been working with U-M since 2011. I started at the Ginsberg Center as the Assistant Director for the America Reads Program and then a year later became the director of the program. I liked that I was able to be working in higher education but still had a foothold into K12 education, particularly the Detroit public schools. In 2015 the Ginsberg Center underwent a strategic planning process and out of that Democratic Engagement emerged. At that time I worked with both teams, but in 2018 Democratic Engagement and the Big Ten Voting Challenge became my sole focus at the Ginsberg Center.

What is your job function at the Ginsberg Center?
I am currently the Lead for Democratic Engagement and the Big Ten Voting Challenge. Democratic Engagement really refers to dialogue across the political spectrum. Under that umbrella I chair the We Listen staff series planning committee, which includes staff from various spaces on campus. We get people together usually every month for dialogue around specific political topics. In the past we have covered prison reform, imigration, election integrity. We also work with other staff, faculty, and student groups to facilitate dialogue as well. The Big Ten Voting Challenge is a non-partisan friendly competition between the Big Ten conference trying to get all eligible students registered to vote. 

What is one of your favorite projects you have worked on at the Ginsberg Center?
The first thing that comes to mind in terms of something tangible is the little free library on the Ginsberg Center’s porch. It was a labor of love and project of mine while working with America Reads. I love the idea of free and hopefully easy access to books for people of all ages. Everytime I used to walk into the Ginsberg Center it would make me smile as I passed it. 

What are your social change interests in your personal life?
I identify as a feminist and I am very passionate about gender equity, it is a key issue for me. I am also a member of City Council in Dearborn and in that role, and in general, I am very passionate about anti-racist work and acknolwedging and working to abolish white supremacy. That is something I am continuing to work on both personally and in the community, as I know  the work will never be done. The environment is another issue that is important to me. Addressing climate change and creating change in terms of how we live is an absolute must. We have to take care of the planet because when we take care of the planet we are taking care of each other. 

What has helped you during the pandemic (object, cooking, food, TV, etc.)
On a very basic level having a roof over my head and a safe, peaceful place to live was everything to me. I also live on a quiet deadend street and being able to get out and talk to my neighbors from a distance was so helpful for me and helped me feel less alone and isolated during the past months.