Celebrations Salute Vibrant Student Cultures

A group poses for a photo at a MOSAIC event where students performed poetry, music and other art forms from the Harlem Renaissance.A series of lively, intercultural events gives students from diverse backgrounds an opportunity to ask the “awkward” questions as they learn about and celebrate other cultures.

The events encourage minority students to get more involved in university life, said Dannemart Pierre, director of multicultural student programs. MOSAIC plans and hosts the gatherings, which have explored black, Hispanic, Asian and African cultures.

The initiatives are important because they’re not just for a specific group of people, sophomore Kelsey Mearman said. MOSAIC is for everyone to explore culture and pose the questions they feel uncomfortable asking.

“MOSAIC invites people to talk about the awkward things,” Mearman, an elementary education major, said. “Everyone here is appreciated and valued, and their culture should be appreciated and valued as well.”

Mearman, for example, is Cuban, but many people assume she is Caucasian, because she has very light skin. They shy away from asking her about her Latina background, even though she likes talking about it.

“I do like people knowing that my culture is important to me, even if I don’t look the part,” Mearman said.

A month-long celebration of Latin cultures began with a bilingual chapel service Wednesday evening. The worship experience — led by Master of Divinity student Kerwin Santiago — was the first of four Wednesdays in April, a series of events to see, celebrate and explore cultural diversity.

Each of the Wednesdays in April events has a different theme:

  • Our Legacy: honoring history
  • Our Styles: celebrating culture through style and dance
  • Our Food: learning about and tasting foods from other cultures and
  • Our Stories: giving students from different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds the opportunity to share their personal stories.

The next event is “Vamos a Comer,” a Latin American food truck invasion before the men’s lacrosse game. It starts 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Athletic Campus, 3401 Parker Ave.

For an upcoming style-themed celebration, students are eager to model their quinceañera dresses and talk about the significance of the 15th birthday party, Pierre said. Junior psychology student Josmery Botello, who was born in the Dominican Republic, is one of the models.

The quinceañera is a fun “coming of age party” in Hispanic culture, Botello said. A girl turning 15 picks out a ball gown and gets pampered in advance of a big celebration of her womanhood with family and friends.

 “It’s the biggest birthday party you’ll have in your whole life,” she said.

MOSAIC events such as the worship service in Spanish help Botello feel at home on a campus where she is part of the minority culture.

“MOSAIC has brought my culture to light,” she said. A student demonstrates the traditional dress of her country.

Later this month, Latin students will also personalize issues such as immigration by telling their stories, Pierre said.

Previously, a “Meet Your Neighbor” open house offered an opportunity for all students who identify as an ethnic minority to meet faculty and staff who also identify as an ethnic minority. Chapels addressed the topics of interracial love and intercultural family relationships. Faculty and staff shared based on their own experiences.

For the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Dr. Terriel Byrd, professor of urban ministry, gave a short sermon “From Memphis to the Mountaintop.”

Senior Jada Matthews, who is studying forensic science, was the only African American student in her suite freshman year. Her suitemates had a lot of questions about her hair or other aspects of her culture that they didn’t know how to ask. 

MOSAIC gives students that opportunity, she said. During a “Queens and Crowns” event, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic student panel talked about their hair journeys – because hair takes on different meanings depending on the culture in which someone grew up, Pierre said.

For last year’s Wednesdays in April, students from Mozambique, Thailand and Jordan explained different styles of dress and dance in their home countries. Students from Kenya and Ghana shared their stories.

Matthews’ Thai suitemate demonstrated a dance and the traditional attire with a headdress.

The beauty of MOSAIC is that it doesn’t single out one culture as being greater than another, she said.

“We all equally need to be celebrated,” Matthews said.

Top Photo: A group poses for a photo at a MOSAIC event where students performed poetry, music and other art forms from the Harlem Renaissance.

Bottom Photo: A student models traditional Thai dress, complete with headdress.