VOICES: ICP’s open mic night explores culture, race and gender

VOICES+event+taking+place+in+the+Global+Leadership+Center

Tiana Krukar

VOICES event taking place in the Global Leadership Center

Kelly Vivanco, Staff Writer

On Friday, March 25 in the Global Leadership Center (GLC), Intercultural Programs (ICP) held its annual VOICES event, advertised as: “a night of art and expression exploring identity and culture.” Featuring 12 student speakers and a total of 16 submissions, the event included mostly spoken word, poetry and one art submission.

An intermission separated the first seven speakers from the last seven. Around 100 people attended the event at the busiest time of the night.

Tiana Krukar, event manager and fourth-year student, described the event in an email announcement: “For the past [five] years, VOICES has been an open mic night celebrating students of color’s performance, speech, and art on a variety of topics including culture, race, and gender. In previous years, VOICES submissions have consisted of spoken word pieces, poetry, photography, video recordings, instrumental music, storybook reading, singing, 3D and print art, among many others.”

Krukar had two goals for this year’s event: “for students to hear a bit of what others might be experiencing and to enjoy the community aspect of the event.”

Elaborating on the first part of her vision, she explained, “VOICES is a place where you may have your perspective of the world shaken or [you may] really resonate with someone’s story. Both are valuable in cultivating a community for people who do feel marginalized on campus, and for those of the majority culture to understand a bit of what that experience is like.”

“To me,” Krukar added, “the second part was my main goal. [At VOICES] there’s this comfortable energy in the room that’s difficult to explain … I love seeing people linger long after the event took place or make plans to grab dinner in groups afterward. Events like VOICES bring people together not just for … speakers and content but … [to] remind us about the community surrounding us we sometimes forget we have.”

Second-year student Rebecca Li, who both attended the event and performed a spoken word/free verse poem, said, “I didn’t know completely what to expect, but it was a really needed platform, I think, for individuals to voice their frustrations and … hopes. There was a lot of raw honesty, vulnerability [and] unfiltered emotions, and I think that was really healthy.”

Krukar agreed: “I think sometimes as a Christian campus we can shy away from talking about any strong emotions — our anger, our fears— and that’s not really great to keep bottled up. For some, VOICES is a place to [get things off their chests], and that’s great.”

Krukar went on to note another special function of VOICES. “For some students,” Krukar said, “Westmont can be a difficult place to call home. Physical presence here for four years doesn’t always come with the mental or emotional relaxation that a ‘home’ promises. It can be hard to completely let your hair down or feel totally at ease with the people around you, so people can be guarded, intentionally or unintentionally.”

“For some,” Krukar continued, “spaces like VOICES or ICP’s Connect Retreat are spaces where you can take a deep breath and feel that comfort of home, comfort of knowing the people surrounding you understand, accept and support you.” 

Li said her own piece was briefer than other entries, but that it “was the amount I needed to say and nothing more.” Titled “Zodiac Farm,” it explored metaphors for countries, languages, cultures, church and family backgrounds in Li’s life, concluding, “How dare I think of my pioneering, patient parents as anything but competent, courageous champions? Why, they were on their second language when the rest of the farm was still on its first.”

Recalling the event, Li highlighted Luke Mason, Jackie Takarabe and Ebun Kalejaiye’s pieces. She also added, “We had a few members of the LGBTQIA community speak, as well, which took a specific type of courage, I think, because … the unique challenge for those in [that] community is that they often feel invisible.” Their sexuality, Li said, is not as obvious as race, so it often goes unnoticed “unless somebody took the time to get to know them.”

Krukar was similarly impressed by the pieces shared this year. “VOICES has always been a pretty open, heartfelt event for people to be vulnerable,” she said, but she pointed out the wider breadth of topics covered this year.

“Previous years focused primarily on the experiences of people of color,” Krukar explained, “which still held true this year, but I wanted to really broaden that net to also encompass topics like sexuality, ability and gender. These are topics that aren’t given as much of a platform on campus for students to speak out on, and I wanted to intentionally give people the space to do so.”

For VOICES events in future years, Li said she hopes each one can be “a safe space for multiple voices with different perspectives on a few central topics that affect the breadth of our lives.”

“A lot of people have nuanced and layered commentary to add to the conversation,” she explained, “and so it will take a lot of patience to unearth those different opinions.” She hoped Westmont continues to “foster an environment where people feel like it’s safe to disagree with other people — I think the more we can do that, the better we will be able to truly live up to the heart of what we hope and pray for Westmont College.”

Li concluded by saying, “I’m really grateful for the courage [of] all those participants — because when you stand up there, all eyes are on you, and that can be a very scary thing.”

Krukar similarly added that, as an audience member, she felt privileged to have “these incredibly strong individuals inviting you into their lives to see what gets them going, to see them vulnerable.” She added, “You’re called to listen carefully, let yourself be changed, and act on that change.”

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