Intercultural Programs renew activities during fall semester

Chloe White and Willow Martin

This semester, Westmont’s Intercultural Organizations (ICO), part of the umbrella of Intercultural Programs (ICP), put on a number of events to engage the community with issues of race, cultural identity and diversity. 

Among these were the Latinx Student Union’s (LSU) celebration of Dia De Los Muertos, an Allyship event hosted by White Students for Racial Justice (WRJ), and a game show night with the Black Student Union (BSU).

Theo Patterson, co-leader of WRJ, commented on the organization’s activities. In addition to weekly meetings, WRJ put on a major outreach event called “On the Origins of Race.” According to Patterson, the event “focused on understanding the intentional development of the racialized world that we live in in the modern U.S. today,” which “catalyzed discussions both within and outside of ICP about next steps to take towards racial equity and justice on our campus.”

Caleb Beeghly, co-leader of the Multi-Ethnic Student Association (MESA), emphasized how their activities this year focused on community building for multi-ethnic students. He said, “Being mixed can bring a lot of questions like ‘am I [blank] enough?’ So we joke that MESA is a place where we can all be confused about our identity together. This year, we have been working on building community and creating a safe space for members, which I think all the ICOs have done a really good job at doing.”

This renewed season marks Intercultural Programs’ (ICP) first in-person events since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the campus felt strains as students engaged with issues of racial justice. One point of tension was a stained-glass window in the prayer chapel picturing Jesus standing over North America — deemed “white Jesus” by students. 

Immediately after a protest in spring 2020 condemning the silencing of racially diverse voices on campus, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, sending students home and consequentially suppressing campus-wide conversations about race. However, the resumption of in-person events has provided the opportunity to reignite these conversations on campus.

Blake Thomas, Westmont’s director of intercultural programs, believes that tensions at Westmont are not new, but rather are a result of a socio-political climate that has helped surface issues students of color have been facing for years. “The tension that, until recently, has remained an internal struggle for students of color is no longer contained to personal reflections and private conversations. To different degrees, we’re all forced to confront it now,” he commented.

Thomas continued observing ways Westmont’s programs can help facilitate reconciliation, saying, “The uncovering of our racial brokenness does not have to be seen negatively. Instead, there is potential for something beautiful, because now what has been hidden in the dark is seen and can be healed.”

The ICOs hope to facilitate this process on campus. Patterson commented, “WRJ fills a very unique space on our campus in discussions and activism surrounding racial justice. Many institutions do not have a space that is dedicated for conversations about race explicitly amongst white people and this helps to normalize conversations about race in a predominantly white institution where race is still somewhat of a taboo and/or tense subject.”

Other ICOs focus more on student integration within the Westmont community. Simon Mangok Angong Mahdi co-leads the Global International Students Association (GISA) with Amarilis Falconi. He said that GISA’s mission is to “foster a community where students with different upbringings could see themselves and blend in quite easily here at Westmont College.” 

The intercultural programs that Westmont offers recognize that the transition from home to college may be uniquely difficult for international students. According to Mahdi, GISA recognizes the need and “creates a platform where [international students] can share their experiences and help each other acclimatize to the new environment.”

Amidst the difficulty of navigating unprecedented issues of race and diversity on campus, ICP has led an active semester full of events for students with diverse ethnic backgrounds and for the student population at large.

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