This spring, Wells' student organization UMOJA presented their 2nd annual four-day conference, titled "Looking Back, Moving Forward," from March 31 to April 3. Throughout the conference, staff, faculty, and students participated in enlightening and necessary conversations during events titled Racism on Our Campus, The Culture of Sustainability, The LGBTPoC Panel, and Athletes and Education on a College Campus. Each consisted of discussions supported by outstanding attendance and participation, and UMOJA succeeded in bringing to Wells the issues and solutions they had learned about while attending the 22nd annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale.
For Racism on Our Campus, Stephanie Moore '18, Taylor Babb '16, and Maya Davila '19 prepared a powerpoint presentation to kick off the discussions, and Dean of Students Jenn Michael provided tremendous help as moderator. By examining the role that social media and social spaces play in discourse and dialogue, UMOJA members took the initiative to present issues that they've noticed on campus and through the influence of media. The event provided additional continuity as the second annual group discussion about race as a factor in our daily interactions.
Day 2 consisted of a discussion with an outstanding group of students—both athletes and non-athletes—as well as coaches and staff. The talk, titled Athletes and Education, was led by UMOJA member and new E-board member Nicholas Lewis-Antwi '17 along with remarks by Athletic Director Michael Lindberg. As an athlete—specifically a lacrosse player—Nicholas commented on the variety of pressures that athletes and non-athletes endure as students. As the conversation progressed, Michael Lindberg shared his experiences working with athletes and furthered the discussion about certain stigmas and stereotypes attached to athletes. The group concluded that mutual support and understanding create a stronger community.
The LGBTPoC Panel was held on day 3 in Faculty Parlors. The five student panelists represented the LGBT community and the people of color (POC) community, and included both UMOJA members and other student leaders. UMOJA President Daleysha Lockhart '16 moderated the discussion and opened the floor to a variety of questions. Back and forth, the panelists and the audience discussed misconceptions held about both of the communities they represent, opportunities for mentorship, the role of mainstream media, the role of religion, societal expectations, and support from one another.
Finally, UMOJA members Atiya Jordan '16, Christina Alexander-Johnson '18, and Maya Davila led The Culture of Sustainability. Stephen Armstrong '16, who plays a vital role in sustainability efforts on campus, discussed the idea of cultural racism and environmental racism. Environmental racism was coined in the 1980's around the time of Cancer Alley in Louisiana and is still relevant today especially for the water crisis of Flint, Mich. Audience members discussed solutions such as participation in local government elections and community board meetings.
"Looking back, Moving Forward" created a space for the Wells community to provide suggestions and solutions related to a variety of issues, and as a result, UMOJA continues to raise awareness and improve the student experience at Wells.