Brian Healy & Katie Ward
Last Friday, the Critical Diversity Studies department held their 5th Annual Forum, which engages students in critical analyses of the historical and contemporary social construction of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship and religion. The theme of this year’s event was Stones of Hope: Non-Violent Activism Built on Legacy and Imagination. Guest speakers included Jeff Chang, Idris Ackamoor, Nicole Lim, and Danny Glover.
USF’s Annual Critical Diversity Fall Forum was created by the Diversity Task Force, to plan a new and expanded dialogue on the definition, meaning, and significance of diversity that incorporates all members of the USF community. The Critical Diversity Studies Major took over the duties of organizing the Critical Diversity Fall Forum after its creation in 2013.
Associate Dean for Social Sciences at the College of Arts and Sciences, Pamela Balls-Organista, welcomed the audience members and spoke about what the forum hoped to achieve. “[The forum] serves as a community teach-in. One that is mission-driven and is charged to give a voice to the voiceless, educate minds, touch hearts and champion knowledge to affect positive change,” said Balls-Organista.
Balls-Organista said she hoped the forum would spark curiosity that could lead into dialogue about the the speakers’ presentations, and contributed by initiating the discussion herself. “What can the past teach us? How can we effectively, creatively, and intelligently stand up to address social and structural problems?” she said.
Before guest speakers spoke at the podium, members of USF’s poetry club, WORD!, Adam Hernandez, Sarah Tutont and Kay Nielson, officially opened the forum by reading some of their works. They were welcomed with snaps and nods from the audience.
Chang, who is a professor and executive director of the Institute for Diversity in the Arts at Stanford University, was the first guest speaker of the event. He spoke about cultural and demographic changes of race, and how that has led to today’s perception of diversity. Chang believes culture wars are just as strong as ever, however. “In the media, in our university brochures, in our images, we see one happy rainbow colored country. But if we look at the industries, we see that racial inequality and cultural inequity is growing. We see resegregation on the rise,” said Chang.
He closes his speech by telling the audience that the Black Lives Matter movement is more than just protests and Twitter hashtags. The campaign has the power, as Chang says, “to make us see all black lives. Young, old and middle aged, disabled, and differently abled, queer, transgender, immigrant, incarcerated and more. Because if we can see and hold a space for all black lives, then we can really see the value in all lives.”
Following Chang was Nicole Lim, a lawyer who graduated from the USF Law School. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. At the museum she directs programs for education reform, exhibit development, native language revitalization, and tribal youth enrichment.
Lim came prepared with a slideshow, during which she spoke about the history and the current problems Native Americans face. According to Lim, these individuals encounter a lack of representation in the media, school textbooks, and social activist movements. “When we look back, we’re really fighting against over 1000 years of colonization, 1000 years of institutional racism,” said Lim.
Idris Ackamoor presented “Ritual of the Collective Breath,” a performance art piece that shook the audience. He entered the far-opposite side of the room, wearing a leopard-print loincloth and shawl over a body suit. Traditional bracelets and anklets covered in bells chimed as he stomped across the room, making his way to the stage. After playing a variety of instruments on the stage, shouting “We all got to breathe. Hands up, don’t shoot,” Ackamoor picked up a saxophone and entered the crowd again. He played “Soliloquy for Michael Brown,” and though it began as a somber tribute, it quickly turned into a cacophonous screeching meant to symbolize the trauma felt by Brown’s loved ones.
Danny Glover was the last presenter to speak before the Q&A. Glover’s session focused on the life and struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King, and how the Bay Area is continuing his message of nonviolence. Glover, known for his career in directing and acting (“Lethal Weapon,” “The Color Purple”), has also served as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador (1984 – 2004), and currently serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. Born in San Francisco and a SFSU alumni, Glover served on the Black Students Union during his time at the university. His speech offered a historical and experienced perspective.
“Perhaps the memory of Martin King needs to be broken free from all official attempts to manage, to market, and to domesticate him,” Glover said during his speech. “Dr. King held a vision of America. He envisioned the Civil Rights Movement as a struggle to redeem America’s soul.”
Balls-Organista urges students who felt moved by the forum to possibly consider a major or minor in Critical Diversity Studies, or at least to become more involved in the programs activities. “For the students in the room, if you enjoy the taste of looking at diversity through a critical lens, I want to invite you to the feast of what the major, or minor, can be.”
Photo courtesy of Brianna de Jesus-Baños