This past week, a wave of events focused on celebrating diversity and authenticity came to campus as a part of both the Embrace Week and Conscious Week initiatives. Hosted by FACES, Embrace Week—alternately, embRACE Week—sought to highlight diversity on campus and explore a multitude of topics as they intersect with race and racism. Similarly, Conscious Week was jointly held by the AHANA+ Leadership Council, the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, and the Office of Student Affairs to encourage meaningful conversation on intersectionality.
“For this year’s Embrace Week, FACES really wanted to emphasize the importance of our nation’s diversity, as well as our campus’ diversity,” says FACES Co-Director Brian Kouassi, MCAS ‘17. “FACES believes that no matter where we come from, we should all respect and embrace everyone’s differences. And [you can see] our theme of respecting diversity play out in the many different events we had throughout the week.”
Kicking off the week with a career prep workshop for first-generation college students and a talk on environmental racism, the events of Embrace Week aimed to raise awareness and ignite campus-wide discussion on important issues. The week continued with a panel on community organizing for racial justice, and finished off with the sixth annual Speak For Your Change event.
On Tuesday, Embrace and Conscious Week collaborated by bringing in Gwen Dungy to talk about the first-generation student experience.
“Exploring this notion of the ‘American Dream,’ we focused on the environment, the first-generation experience, and resistance movements,” says Kouassi. “As an organization committed to ending all forms of racism, we wanted the BC population to know that every one of us already makes America great. We all have different stories and experiences that contribute to our nation’s success, and our organization hopes that our events will continue to help marginalized communities feel more welcome on campus and in our country.”
Each event garnered impressive turnout and spoke to vitally important issues, especially some that are often absent in conversations at Boston College.
“The Color of Water: Exploring Environmental Racism” brought in speaker Kadineyse Ramize Peña from Clean Water Action to kickstart the campus discussion on environmental racism. As stated on the event’s Facebook page, it explored “how environmental issues disparately affect communities of color and what this means for public health and policy,” as well as “the effects of toxic chemicals [primarily those in personal care products] and how exposure to them is linked to environmental racism.”
The event helped shed light on the reality of environmental racism, which was defined as “a type of discrimination where people of low-income or minority communities are forced to live in close proximity or be exposed to environmentally hazardous or degraded environments, such as toxic waste, pollution, and urban decay.” Often, environmental racism is overlooked when discussing the effects of racism, though its real-life effects and policy changes are felt by many minority communities. Peña noted the recent events in Flint, Michigan as a strong example.
Wrapping up on Thursday night, students ducked out of the rain and into the Rat at 8 p.m. to attend the sixth annual Speak For Your Change event. Emceed by FACES Council members Titilayo Odedele, MCAS ‘18, and Samir Aslane, MCAS ‘19, the event featured powerful spoken word performances, as well as performances from Voices of Imani, BEATS, and Juice. The event followed the theme for Embrace Week, with flyers reading “We Make America Great: Speak For Your Change.”
It’s impossible to pick just one adjective to describe the night—the performances and recitations were beautiful, bone-chilling, raw, and truly moving. From an impassioned ode to fellow Asian-American women to a poem about a racist Uber driver, the event showcased BC student talent as well as the diversity of cultures and stories present on campus.
Closing the night was an LSOE professor, Dr. Lillie Albert—loving referred to as Dr. A—who recited Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” She brought the poem to life, captivating her audience as she infused her identity and experiences into Angelou’s words.
“It gives me strength, and it gives me courage,” she said of Angelou’s poem.
Conscious Week started off the week by bringing in Glee cast member Alex Newell, known for playing transgender character “Unique Adams” on the show. Newell talked about his upbringing in a single-parent household and his experiences being black and gay in the TV industry. The week went on to include a BAIC brunch and a screening of 13th, a documentary focusing on mass incarceration in America.
A definite highlight of the week was “Intersectionality at BC: A Student Panel,” which brought in four different students to talk about their experiences finding and processing the intersections of their oppressed identities. The featured students sat at the front of Cushing 001, with their names and preferred pronouns written on the chalkboard behind them. The panel was moderated by Amirah Orozco, MCAS ‘19, and featured Joon Park, MCAS ‘18 (they/ them/ their), Anne Williams, MCAS ‘18 (she/ her/ hers), Tara Cotumaccio, MCAS ‘18 (she/ her/ hers), and Taraun Frontis, CSOM ‘19 (he/ him/ his).
The students shared authentic glimpses into their experiences recognizing the simultaneous interactions of their oppressed identities, and how that changed upon coming to BC. Each panelist emphasized that identities are not siloed; it is important that we discuss intersectionality as we move forward in these conversations, and that we broaden our social justice movements to include the most marginalized of any group.
Although cura personalis, or care of the whole person, is considered to be a core Jesuit value, the panelists talked about how intersectionality and intersectional spaces are lacking at BC. One panelist added that they are especially lacking in the classroom, while another added that the classes in her Women and Gender Studies minor have provided safe academic environments to further discuss the importance of intersectionality.
The panel wrapped up with a word from next year’s UGBC President and EVP elects, Akosua Achampong, MCAS ‘18, and Tt King, MCAS ‘18, who echoed the importance of bringing intersectionality more intentionally into campus conversation.
“Our hope is that the crowd [for these events] will grow more and more each and every year, and that it moves beyond the Boston College bubble,” said Achampong. “It’s necessary to be cognizant of being conscious, because you don’t know what somebody else’s story is. There are so many parts of ourselves that we don’t share with each other. I hope that’s something Tt and I can do when we take office.”
The duo encouraged students to look out for UGBC general applications—which are anticipated to be released soon—to help be part of continuing these vital conversations, celebrating BC’s diversity, and helping shift the campus culture towards inclusivity and intersectionality. But both Embrace Week and Conscious Week certainly proved to be a step in the right direction.