March 07, 2014

Celebrating Diversity

Cliff Freeman, CIS ’16 (left), and Chris Haigh, director of diversity programs

Joseph Gay, BCOS ’15, did not know what to expect when he arrived for the first day of the Beloved Community Retreat in January. Hosted in conjunction with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the event aimed to convey a global mission of justice and equality. But for some attendees, including Gay, how much they would take with them into everyday life could not have been known ahead of time.

“I thought the retreat would be a good way to get involved with campus activities and also help the [Wentworth] community grow,” Gay said. “I was aware of certain issues, but I still learned a lot and was able to look at some things in a different way.”

Organized by Chris Haigh, director of diversity programs, the Beloved Community marked its third iteration this year, inviting a small group of students (mostly first-time attendees) to celebrate the work of Dr. King. The term “beloved community” describes a physical retreat where “hunger, homelessness, bigotry, and hatred would be overcome by a powerful ethos of community,” according to Haigh.

Rebecca Williams, BELM ’14, and Kaila Gibbons, BMED ’16, both attended the event and both are active on campus in awareness groups. Gibbons works with Wentworth’s Leadership Institute, while Williams spearheaded a recent campaign to bring attention to Black History Month on campus. As females in the STEM field, they are familiar with discussions of gender equality, but they related that the Beloved Community was a way to look at all issues of equality through firsthand examples and thought-provoking workshops.

“It was great seeing how people identified themselves with certain objects,” Gibbons said of one activity that asked attendees to display items that held personal significance. “I recognized the diversity of issues here at Wentworth before the event, but an activity like that really put a face to things and showed the multitude of interests that exist.”

Williams added, “We’re known primarily as an engineering school, so it was nice to see people showing more of a humanities side. Some people [at the retreat] went back to stereotypes and there is still a lot of work to do to break those down. But events like these ones, and Diversity Programs in general, go a long way toward helping that.”

For Cliff Freeman, ’16, diversity could easily describe the CIS major’s schedule. Another attendee of Beloved Community, Freeman has spent much of his time juggling schoolwork, attending other social justice retreats outside of school, and regularly meeting with members of Teens Leading the Way, a statewide, youth-leading coalition. He is also working on ways to tackle the juvenile justice system, and he created an artistic collage of images from the Beloved Community retreat to showcase the range of faces and ideas present.

“We want to reiterate that people are diverse and that everyone is struggling with something,” he said of the work he is doing. “We all deserve a voice.”

Freeman notes that he does not directly encounter much discrimination at Wentworth, but that it can be easy to forget that students at other schools do encounter discrimination when a person’s own community is already accepting. He urges all community members to attend likeminded retreats and to talk with those with different backgrounds and opinions.

Gay relates that he is generally shy by nature, but that he “really opened up” at the retreat, even taking part in an impromptu dance party at one point. “[The retreat] did a great job of introducing everyone and making them feel equal,” he said. “My friends were surprised that I took part, but I told them what we have to do to be a better community, and they’re all open to it.”

Gay’s desire to carry on the lessons he learned resonates with many of those who attended the event.

“I noticed a lot of people at the retreat who wanted to take action and carry these messages beyond the event,” said Williams. “And I really want to continue to pass on what I’ve learned to others and keep the message going.”

Between March 17 and March 22, students will have another chance to affect change and learn more about their fellow scholars with Diversity Week 2014. Events will take place on and around campus throughout the week, including a Safe Space training, a presentation on “I Am Wentworth,” a Women at Wentworth mentoring session, a trip to the Boston Museum of African American History, and much more. Questions and ideas can be sent to diversity@wit.edu.

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