This past Saturday, Founder’s Hall was filled with activity for Unity Day, a day-long event intended to “[celebrate] our community’s diversity, culture, and overarching similarities that join us together and make us united,” as stated in the event description on the Haverford website.
The celebration included food provided through the annual Tasty Bites event organized by the International Students Association (ISA), interactive activities led by affinity groups, guest performances by dance groups from Bryn Mawr and the University of Pennsylvania, and concluded with a Unity Dance in the evening.
17 affinity groups and 4 performing groups were present, and organizers estimate that the event had about 200 participants.
After a successful Culture Week in the spring, organizer Cathy Quero ’15 said the idea for Unity Day emerged while she was doing research at the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) over the summer. Quero realized the campus needed an activity in the fall “to showcase culture on campus” and make “affinity and culture more accessible.” The hope is that such an event could begin to break down misconceptions people have about affinity or culture not being “for them,” Quero said.
The goal of the event was to “expand the perceived meaning of culture” beyond just people of color to bring recognition that “culture is for everyone,” said Officer of Multicultural Awareness Maria Bojorquez-Gomez ’16, who is also an intern at the OMA.
According to Bojorquez-Gomez, they were very deliberate about trying to maximize the event’s inclusive atmosphere by inviting a broad range of groups, including the Women’s Center and a student chapter of the NAACP, to participate. The workshops were also structured to appeal to a broader range of people, such as an egg-decorating workshop led by the Eastern-European Alliance, a new affinity group.
Unity Day grew, in part, out of a “diversity retreat” that took place earlier on in the semester, hosted and funded by President Dan Weiss’s office, and attended by senior administrators, deans, faculty, Honor Council representatives, and student leaders.
The retreat stimulated conversation on what can be done institutionally to improve diversity and an inclusive campus environment. Out of these discussions has emerged the plan to establish a community task force composed of students, faculty, and staff, to think about how to deal with these issues in the short and long-run.
Dean Theresa Tensuan ’89 said Unity Day is a great opportunity for community-building and forging connections, not only amongst affinity groups, but also with students at other college campuses in the area to develop a strong regional network.
Tensuan has observed that affinity groups are trying to preserve the continuity of their groups by mentoring incoming students and building the community. Affinity group leaders have also played an important role as leaders of other initiatives going on around campus, such as educational access, she said. Affinity groups not only provide a support network for students but also help figure out ways to channel “collective energy to help effect productive change,” said Tensuan. She adds that they are “Not self-contained, isolate groups,” but “crucibles that enable people to engender ideas,” expanding the conception of the role of affinity and culture on campus.
According to Quero, the reaction from affinity groups on campus towards the event was generally very positive, although it was difficult to mobilize resources and active participation in the event over such a short time period.
Quero said that while there are a lot of changes to be made, she feels interest in the event is there and hopes Unity Day will become a big annual event.
“This day is for everyone…I want to know where they’re coming from and share where I’m coming from,” said Quero.