S.P.E.A.K. makes social justice conversations priority

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By Sade Smith, News Editor

On Friday October 21, “S.P.E.A.K.,” or Stimulating Practical Engaging Audiences Knowledgeably held their first event in the Woodland Commons, engaging students in an interactive and eye opening experience.

This experience is surrounded by the idea that a platform needed to be made for continuous conversations about social justice issues on campus. Co-founder and junior Civil Engineering major Rachelle Edouarzin said, “With this program, we hope to stimulate the minds of our audience by providing them with practical discussion topics that get them engaged and speaking.”

Before the event began, a visual media presentation was shown at the front of the room, displaying animated statistics concerning world matters including race, literacy and living wages. Students who attended the event received a complimentary S.P.E.A.K. T-shirt upon arrival, designed by Junior Painting major Erick Maldonado.

In greeting their guests, the organizations founders, Junior Biology major Charlemya Erasme and Edouarzin gave thanks to Maldonado as well as Kevin Francois and Ashley Lima who created S.P.E.A.K.’s informational animation video.

The featured activity for the first “episode” in this series was a “privilege walk.” Participants were given a keychain with string to place multiple beads. During the walk, students moved from one table to the next, answering a single question and following the instructions. Papers on the table asked questions such as, “Could you be affectionate with your romantic partner in public without fear of being harassed or judged?” Then the instructions would read, “If yes: take a bead, if no: lose a bead.” Answering the questions put you into a social category, impressed or privileged.

In identifying the privilege or oppression students carried with them, a dialogue opened up about intersectionality and working past life’s hardships. At the beginning of the discussion, guests were asked to speak a word into the room that described their feelings after the self-identifying activity. Around the room, students said words such as “privileged,” “shocked,” and “broken.”

Most students mentioned how the visual perspective gave them insight into how they are more or less privileged in this world. Senior Crime and Justice major Maritssa Mathieu said, “The privilege comes from what my mom sacrificed for me.”

Professor Tammi Arford of the Crime and Justice department was in attendance, as a mediator of conversation, encouraging the events guests to take the conversation one step further. She named her privileged, saying, “Consider that not one privilege does not cancel out another. One specific power overrules America and outside of those categories, you occupy a small part of marginalization.”

For Erasme and Edouarzin, this episode served as an introduction to social justice and consideration of individual privileges. Edouarzin commented, “Most of the time, people tend either to take their privilege for granted or not recognize that they even have privilege. The goal of the activity was to allow people to come to that realization. By looking around at the beads collected by their peers, participants would have a visual representation of how everyone has gone through different experiences in life.”

As this program is set up similar to a television series, with a semester being a season, and each event representing an episode, the next episode will further encourage in-depth conversation on social justice issues. Erasme said, “We have so much power that we do not harness. With this series, hopefully participants will realize their power and implement essential and significant change on campus, in their local communities and across the globe.”

The second episode of Season 1 will take place Friday November 18, 2016 4-6 p.m. in the Woodland Commons.

Photo Courtesy: SPEAK

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