Student organizations under partnership with Multicultural and Diversity Organization Leadership Summit (MDOLS) hosted a whiteboard project titled #StarttheConvo between Friday, Feb. 19, and Friday, Feb. 26. Each day students were invited to answer questions covering a variety of socially charged issues.
Derby Sale, a graduate intern for the Office of Student Activities and one of the coordinators of the #StarttheConvo project, said that the campaign was meant to encourage meaningful discussions on intersectionality as it encompasses all the members of MDOLS and the University.
According to geekfeminism.com, intersectionality is “a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions such as racism, sexism, homophobia…etc, are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.”
On the first day of #StarttheConvo students were asked, “How do you identify yourself?” Participants filled in their own personalized answers after the words “I am…” on whiteboards. On the second day, the question was, “What does feminism mean to you?” On the third day participants filled in responses after the statement, “My privilege is…” On the fourth day the question was, “What does social justice mean to you?”
When students provided an answer to a question they were asked to hold up their board for a picture. The pictures collected after each day were posted on the MDOLS Instagram. Currently there are dozens of student headshots under the hashtag MDOLS.
“I think events like this are a great idea as the core mission of a university should be to engage students in critical reflection on the compelling issues of the day, and encourage them to grapple with how we can best come together to serve the common good as educated and compassionate people,” said Johanna Foster, Director of the Sociology Program and Gender Studies Program.
“I think that coming to terms with our own perspective on how we will choose to treat other people, as well as our sense of what we, ourselves, deserve in this world and why, is at the heart of any decent liberal arts education.”
Arianna Gordon, a senior health studies student, and the president of the African American Student Union (AASU) is a member of MDOLS. “As college students, it is very easy to get caught up in ourselves and only what is happening in our immediate spheres. But through the these kinds of events, we are able to remind people that other people struggle too. Other people are facing their own difficult battles and we can’t ever forget that,” she said.
According to Sale, MDOLS has evolved since its original establishment. “MDOLS is a coalition of student organizations and their leaders which all have multiculturalism or diversity as a part of their core values. In the past, it has been a single one day gathering where student leaders discussed their experiences on campus and within their organizations. There was always the hope of collaborating and putting on programming together, but nothing ever came to fruition. So this year, the Office for Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Student Activities decided to format MDOLS in a way that would allow space for a program to be planned and implemented,” said Sale.
There are a number of clubs in MDOLS this year. “The organizations that participated this year were Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., the African-American Student Union, Gender Studies Club, International Student Club, the National Council of Negro Women, Student Activities Board, Social Work Society, Spectrum, Sigma Xi Interest Group, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc., Muslim Student Association, and Students Advocating Girls Education,” said Derby.
“For me MDOLS has been an opportunity to meet other students of different backgrounds than myself and learn about what is precious to them. Also it has been a chance to meet other leaders like myself and realize they have the same kind of worries and concerns as me. I love it and I hope future student leaders will have the opportunity to be involved as well,” said Gourdon.
Jennifer Russo, a sophomore animations student, and a member of SAGE said, “I noticed that a lot of students were nervous about answering the questions on the last day about social justice. It was hard. A lot of students said they didn’t know the definition, and other students seemed afraid to share their thoughts.”
Foster shared her opinion on students reaction to the project. “In general, sometimes it is just hard to put words to sentiments, even if one feels strongly about an issue. At the same time, I do think that some students have just not been asked to formulate critical political stances as part of their educational experiences, including during their time at Monmouth,” she said. “The more students can be exposed to courses where the study of social inequality takes center stage, such as in sociology and gender studies, the more students can articulate their positions on a continuum of support or resistance to social justice.”
Nagwa Ahmed, a senior biology student participated in #StarttheConvo twice. She said, “It’s important to have events like this on campus to give each other some insight on what is going on in other people’s head, and to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. At the end of the day, we may not know how similar we really are to other people on campus.”
It took many meetings with member organizations of MDOLS to define the project and its purpose. “We have actually done a great deal of planning. This is the first real fruits of our labor in a way,” said Gourdon.
According to Gourdon #StarttheConvo is not the last time you’ll see of MDOLS this semester. “It’s exciting because we have also talked about possibly doing a walk for awareness on campus and even organizing some kind of service project,” she said.
“I typically don’t think of Monmouth as being ‘diverse’ because I don’t see too many people from different nationalities on a day-to-day basis, but I believe that students should all get involved in these types of campaigns. It’s one of the things that can bring all students, no matter what their background is, together as one,” said Ahmed.
If you participated in the #StarttheConvo or would like to see more pictures from the campaign follow @monmouth_MDOLS on instagram.
Photo taken by Jamilah McMillan