"Mosaic" Diversity Conference Melds Viewpoints, Disciplines

 

 

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Students, faculty and administrators listen during a workshop intended to challenge participants to consider the ethnic and cultural forces that shape their identities.
Illustration by Fred Field
Multiculturalism took center stage (and classrooms and auditoriums, as well) on campus in March as the fourth annual conference on diversity-related issues attracted a varied and enthusiastic audience.

The student-run event, titled "Mosaic: What do you see?" after a passage in Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, featured renowned scholar Cornel West, and poet and actress Vanessa Hidary. Hidary and West both appeared before full houses in Page Commons. The conference also offered a full day of workshops and panel discussions aimed at "generating a dialogue about controversial issues by developing a fresh vocabulary and schemata of ideas," according to organizers Shapel Mallard '06 and Donte Tates '05.

The issues were discussed from the perspective of Christians, poets, gay and lesbian students and faculty from a variety of disciplines, from philosophy to biology.

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Scholar Cornell West mingles with students before his lecture in Page Commons.
Illustration by Fred Field
At a workshop titled "A Christian Perspective on Race and Reconciliation," students and administrators talked about their experiences with race, including facing ethnic and cultural lines in Africa and racial tension in Australia. "But under Christ, we're all the same," said Christabel Kwabi '06, an Oak Scholar from Ghana.

In "How to be an Ally?" organizers of Project Ally spent an hour talking about GLBT issues and suggesting ways to be supportive of gay and lesbian students and of the GLBT community. In "Communication 101... Are you listening to what I am saying?" Lisa Sweet (dean of students office and Posse mentor) addressed basic communication dynamics and the importance of listening to one another, particularly across cultural differences.

Mallard and Claire Jimenez '06 conducted a workshop on poetry as a political tool, with Mallard tracing activist African-American poets from Langston Hughes and others of the Harlem Renaissance movement to spoken-word poet Sarah Jones, who performed at the 2003 diversity conference. Chyann Oliver '04 offered her own work ("I am like N'tozake's lady in green/I scream about repossessing my sh,/ Cause I am going on a woman's trip and I need my stuff/ And I've had enuf of you possessing it. ") and then assembled students, staff and faculty wrote and recited poems, an exercise where the group leaders learned as well, Mallard said.

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Cheryl Townsend Gilkes (sociology and African-American studies) speaks at a panel dicsussion titled
Illustration by Jesse Morrissey '04
A panel discussion in Lovejoy 100 featured faculty from various disciplines discussing race in language, race defined biologically and genetically, race as an invention of a society trying to justify the Atlantic slave trade.

After an hour of discussion, a member of the audience asked the panelists whether they thought racial tension was diminishing in the United States. "I hope so," said panelist Cheryl Townsend Gilkes (sociology, African-American studies), "but the link between the thing we call race and a whole lot of other institutional realities is something we haven't come to grips with."