Monday, November 24, 2014

Event Highlight: Michelle Alexander 10.22.14.

By Timothy Kim '15

"We use the criminal justice system to label people of color as criminals and engage in all the practices we left behind."

As part of Skidmore's Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding's event co-sponsored by OSDP, Raices, and Ujima, Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer, came to present her acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

Michelle Alexander argued that the current criminal justice system is creating a new caste system in our society. Those who are labeled as felons do not get the rights that are given to a citizen of the United States. They are most likely to be unemployed. They cannot apply for public housing. In some states, they cannot even receive food stamps. Through this system, people of color, especially African Americans, are targeted and designated as second-class citizens in the United States.

Michelle Alexander explained that the creation of this caste system became possible with the implementation of the "war on drugs." With the start of the war on drugs, not only selling but also possessing very minimal amounts of drugs, including marijuana, came to be considered a serious crime.

I found it ironic and frustrating that neighborhoods of people of color are being targeted in policing drug crime and so many young black Americans are labeled as felons, while here at Skidmore, which is a predominantly rich, white "community," prides itself in ranking first place in marijuana usage among college campuses in the United States. With the same actions, one group of people are considered criminals for their entire lives and the other group fully enjoys its privilege and does not feel any threat of going to jail.

Moreover, she talked about how the rate of police killing of black Americans is nearly the same as the rate of police lynching in the era of Jim Crow. Killing of black people by police officers occurs about twice a week or every three or four days for extremely small matters, such as playing loud music or stealing 75 cents.

This clearly shows that there is injustice in our society. Michelle Alexander urged us to actually mobilize in order to break this injustice: we need to make a radical shift in our consciousness and create movements for people of all color; we need to build an underground railroad that will end the war on drugs and end the racial caste system; and we need to be awakened from colorblindness.

After hearing Michelle Alexander's talk, I felt helpless and hopeless for this country. Knowing the reality of how injustice is so deeply rooted systemically and how it is easily tolerated, it was hard to see how there can be change. However, Michelle Alexander emphasized that we should not lose hope, and, as mentioned above, we should come together and fight against the injustice in this society. This means that we should start creating social movements against racial injustice that is present in our criminal justice system, in Ferguson, and in our daily lives at Skidmore.

  • Do you want to read Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness? The Scribner Library has a copy! Here is the call number so that you don't even need to look up for it. HV9950 .A437 2010. Also, stop by the Intercultural Lounge (ICL) to check out the OSDP library.
  • Did you miss Michelle Alexander's talk and want to listen to her talk? There are plenty of her lectures on YouTube. (Thank you technology!) Click HERE to watch one of her talks.
  • Do you want to know more about colorblindness? Click HERE to read a blog post about the subject.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Student Spotlight: Wilson Espinal ‘17, Public Relations for Raices

By Gerolly Lorenzo '15

Where are you from? What is your major and what are your interests?
I am from Brooklyn, NYC, more specifically Williamsburg. As for major I haven't declared but I'm very likely going to do business and management with a minor in media & film studies. I think the creative environment at Skidmore has over the past year helped me develop new hobbies and interests, one of those being photography. I have a newfound love for photography and even filming that nowadays I find myself taking on projects just for the fun of it. Another big interest I have would be fashion. Over the summer I started a fashion blog and it's still active to this day and I'm having more and more fun with it every single day.

What motivated you to become a member of the Raíces E-board?
Well my family is from the Dominican Republic. I was also born there and I came to the U.S. when I was two years old. I didn't think about my Latino heritage as much until I got to Skidmore. Here I sort of became homesick because I was no longer surrounded by the Latino culture everyday, like the people, the food, the music, so I saw Raíces as a way to not only get all of those wonderful qualities back to Skidmore but to also reconnect with my Latino roots, and kind of dive deeper into what it means to be Latino. Now that I'm part of E-board I have plenty of fun spreading Latino culture around campus.

What is one thing you love about being part of Raíces?
Well I hold the position of public relations and I've always felt it was my job to communicate our work to everyone on campus. So one thing I simply love about being part of Raices is just exposing people of different cultures to my culture, to the Latino culture. What I love even more about that is that I can do it in creative and interesting ways like when I'm promoting our crazy events through funny videos or things like that. But I think what I love most about being in Raíces is sharing this fun and exciting space with my fellow E-board members who are all as equally motivated to teach people about the Latino culture.

Do you have a favorite quote or life motto you go by?
I don’t really have a motto but the college’s motto CTM (Creative Thought Matters) would be an important one because creativity plays such a huge role in my life.

Who’s your biggest inspiration?
I wouldn't say I have a single person that I'm inspired from. I'm inspired by a multitude of things. I have a bunch of photographers I follow on Instagram and they're partly my inspiration for my photos but I may also be listening to music by artists I recently discovered and that sparks something in me. I find myself being inspired at the randomest moments of the day when I least expect it and that's something I love.

Could you give me an example of a photographer or artist that has inspired you?
Yeah, Adam Gallagher inspired me to start my fashion blog. I love the way he presents and wears his clothes.

If there was one message you would like to share with everyone about Latino Heritage Month, what would that be?

I would say for Latinos to take Latino Heritage Month and truly embrace it. Dig into your roots and show everyone why you're unique, show everyone the wonderful place you come from, because there is no other culture like ours. And for others, my message would be to explore your roots and find out stuff that you didn’t know before about yourself.

What are some of your favorite Raíces Events?
Dia de Los Muertos Party, which happened this past weekend and was so much fun and Café con Leche, which is this upcoming week. I’m excited to show everyone our culture at Café con Leche.

Any final words you will like to say about upcoming projects from Raíces?
Stay tuned because Raíces is only getting better. The Latino Banquet will be great and we will be doing a mini film series on Mis Raíces (My Roots), which will be shown at the Latino Banquet. We will be asking people what it means to be Latino so stay tuned for that!

Also, check out Wilson’s fashion blog: W | E

Raíces meets Thursdays, 8pm in the ICC

Upcoming Events:
Nov. 19, Wednesday- Movement For Justice in El Barrio, 6-8PM Ladd 307
Nov. 20, Thursday- Latino Banquet, 6-8PM 2nd floor DHALL

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Event Highlight: Ujima Caribbean Awareness Dinner 10.12.14.

By Timothy Kim '15

As part of Ujima's Caribbean Awareness Week, Ujima hosted the Caribbean Awareness Dinner on October 12th. For the past three years at Skidmore, I always wanted to go to the Caribbean Awareness Dinner, but for some reason I couldn't make it. Finally, at my senior year I had the opportunity to be part of the awesome event hosted by Ujima!

When we entered, each of us received a raffle ticket. (This raffle ticket becomes an extremely important factor of the whole dinner, so don't forget about it!) Then we were seated at a table which had colorful cupcakes. The cupcakes were perfect to eat before the actual dinner. The fact that I haven't had cupcakes for a long time made me enjoy the cupcake even more. It was so GOOD!

When the room was almost full, the Ujima eboard came up to the front and introduced themselves. Since Ujima has a quite big eboard, it was good to know each person's position and what they contribute to the club. After the short introduction, we were told to go get food, which was provided by dining services.

Here are some pictures of the food and students who attended the event!

Throughout the dinner there were different activities related to Caribbean countries and cultures. We filled out a quiz sheet asking different questions about general facts of the Caribbean region. We participated in a game where one person from each table went in front to answer a question accurately and quickly. We also played charades! All of the games were extremely intense, and the winning table received an additional raffle ticket. Since our table won two games, I had three raffle tickets, which put me in a position of having a high chance of winning a prize that Ujima prepared.

There were about ten gifts and about 40 people at the event. Since I had three tickets, I was pretty confident that I would win a prize. All of my "table mates" had a good feeling about being called out. However, none of us won a gift. We just had to congratulate the ten winners. This added up to my history of not winning a single raffle here at Skidmore!

While I was devastated by the fact of not winning any prizes, overall, I had a great time at the Caribbean Awareness Dinner. Firstly, the food was great, which is always the most important part of a dinner. Secondly, it was awesome to spend time with my friends and meet some new people. It is easy to get caught up with our own work during the semester, but at the Caribbean Awareness Dinner we could actually enjoy each other's company. Lastly, I learned different aspects of Caribbean cultures and the region itself, which I personally did not know much about. The dinner allowed me to be more exposed to the culture. Obviously I cannot say that I became a "Caribbean expert" out of this one event (I think no one should think that they can "know" or "understand" any culture/heritage/country with a single exposure). However, through the Caribbean Awareness Dinner, I can say that I became more aware of the culture at the very least and that now I want to know more about the region.

For those who did not go to the Caribbean Awareness Dinner, I am pretty sure you are regretting so much that you did not attend the dinner. No worries! Ujima hosts this dinner every year, so you will have a chance to go next year. If you are a senior and actually cannot go to Caribbean Awareness Dinner at all, still don't worry! Ujima has general meetings and awesome events throughout the whole year, so never hesitate to go to one of them.

  • Ujima's General Meetings: Every other Thursday at 7pm in the Intercultural Center (ICC)
  • Ujima's Facebook (FRIEND THEM!)
  • OSDP's Event Calendar (Keep track on all the events from Ujima and all other OSDP clubs!)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Student Spotlight: Isis Harbour '15, Vice President of Queer Lives In Color (QLIC)

Isis Harbour '15

By Timothy Kim '15

What's your major? Where are you from? 
My major is Economics. I am from Cleveland, Ohio.

Why/how did you end up at Skidmore?
I graduated from Cleveland School of Arts in Vocal Music (my major) and decided to come all the way to New York to Skidmore when a Skidmore recruit, Kate, visited my school. Kate visited us every year since my freshman year, and by senior year, I was convinced that I wanted to be at Skidmore. When I visited, it was a much different environment than I was used to, but that did not deter me. I wanted a different kind of schooling environment and Skidmore seemed perfect.

QLIC is a fairly new group on campus. Can you talk a little about QLIC and how you got involved?
Well, during our junior year, Tobi emailed me about an idea she and another student had about possibly starting up a new club. It sounded like a great idea to me. She wanted me to join and help run the club. When we started, the club was originally called QWOCTALK (QWOC standing for Queer Women of Color), because we saw an immediate need for queer women of color to build a community on Skidmore's campus. However, as time went on, queer men of color and even people who did not identify as queer or people of color inquired about the club and asked if it would ever be open to other identities. After talking about it with Tobi, the President, we agreed that this year we should change the name and open up the group for everyone to come and learn.

What is QLIC's goal on campus?
QLIC's goal on campus is to provide a community for self-identified queer people of color. QLIC is an all inclusive club but focuses on topics and issues relevant to queer people of color, thus serving as a learning opportunity for those who do not identify as queer people of color but who are interested in learning and joining the discussion.

You mentioned that QLIC's goal on campus is to provide a community for self-identified queer of color. I think everyone has a different definition of a community. How do you picture a community?
We picture our community to be a safe place where queer people of color and allies all come to get to know each other and make friends, find support, and share their stories and experiences, so we can learn from each other. So when we say "community," we mean a group of people who may have similar or very different identities coming together and helping one another feel comfortable in a place (Skidmore) that can sometimes feel very exclusive.

How does QLIC relate to your identity here at Skidmore? Does it help, does it make you question your identity, solidify or make your identity stronger?
Personally, QLIC provides a way for me to share my perspective and experiences with the hopes of helping others who maybe aren't as comfortable with their identity as I am. QLIC makes my identity stronger, because with every discussion I hear new stories from different people who've experienced similar situations as I have, and it just reminds me that I am not the only one who has gone through those kinds of things. We want others to know that they are not alone either.

What other clubs/activities on campus are you involved in?
Given my busy schedule with classes, two jobs, and QLIC, I don't have much time for other clubs. However, I will be part of the UJIMA 2015 Annual Fashion Show in the Spring Semester.

Want to meet Isis and get to know this fabulous person? Want to be involved in QLIC or just want to check it out? Never hesitate to come to QLIC's general meetings on Mondays at 8pm in the ICC!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Event Highlight: Eid Dinner 10.04.14.

By Timothy Kim '15

Eid Mubarak!

On Saturday, October 4th, Hayat hosted a fantastic dinner to celebrate Eid. Eid al-Adha, also referred as the "Feast of Sacrifice," is one of the biggest and most important Islamic holidays (not to be confused with Eid al-Fitr, the "Feast of Breaking the Fast," which marks the end of Ramadan). The three day festival commemorates Abraham's trials and marks the end of Hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. In honor of humanity's connections to one another, Eid is a time where Muslims come together and celebrate with prayer, sharing food, music, and dance. Here at Skidmore in the small city of Saratoga Springs, we had the opportunity to participate in the celebration through Hayat's Eid Dinner.

The dinner started with a brief introduction from Mustafa. He explained the meaning of Eid and why people celebrate it. After Mustafa's short talk, people were invited to get food. Everyone was really excited and a long line formed quickly, because, definitely, food is an exciting part of a festival! There was great Indian food with vegetable samosas, naan, vegetable masala, lamb rogan josh, and biriyani. The food was fantastic, and I couldn't help but get two full plates. Here are some pictures of the food we had during Eid Dinner.

While people were enjoying the food and each other's company, a group of students went on the stage and performed a dance. After their first performance, the dancers invited other students to come and join, and the Spa suddenly turned into a dance floor!

Yes, I love food and dance, but I have to say that the highlight of the day for me was henna. I have seen people doing and having henna done, but never had henna on myself before. I wasn't sure if I wanted to have henna, but with some peer pressure, I decided, why not?! I really enjoyed my experience, and one of my friends asked me to do henna on her. First, I was really nervous, but after my first try, I was fascinated with it.

After both having henna done and doing henna on someone for the first time, I realized that I really don't know much about the cultural background of henna. I knew some general facts about how henna is usually done during special days, such as weddings or religious holidays, but not in detail. So I decided to do some research!

Henna has been practiced for over 5000 years (some argue even 9000 years!) in different cultures all over South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. With its long history, henna has been used in very special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays, and holidays. Some records even suggest that in ancient Egypt, mummies had henna designs! Henna has become popular in the west, including here in the United States, starting from the 90s, when celebrities appeared on media with their bodies with henna tattoos.

This made me wonder if henna is cultural appropriation. I read some blog posts which helped me organize my thoughts around henna and cultural appropriation. Since henna is used in various cultures with different meanings, it is hard to say that simply having henna done itself is appropriative. However, as a person of not one of those cultures, I believe that we should be mindful that there are special meanings and do not use henna that might be disrespectful, especially towards religion.

Overall, Eid Dinner was fantastic and gave me space to reflect on my actions toward different cultures. I hope that there will be more opportunities on campus where people can truly enjoy their own culture and where others will come with a respecting and learning attitude.

  • Want to know more about Eid, Islam, South Asian or Middle Eastern culture? Come and join Hayat on Thursdays at 6pm in the ICC!!!Also LIKE their Facebook page!
  • Want to know more about henna? Click HERE!
  • Want to know more about cultural appropriation? Click HERE!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Event Highlight: OSDP's "I Speak What I Like" Brown Bag - Respectability Politics in the Queer Community (with QLICxPride) - 10.09.14

By Gerolly Lorenzo '15

“Respectability politics is simply telling which part of your community you’ll offer up for oppressor violence in exchange for less on you.” –Bankuei, Tumblr
On Wednesday, October 9, 2014 OSDP along with Pride Alliance and QLIC (Queer Lives in Color) hosted “I Speak What I Like” Brown Bag lunch (pizza and salad, yum!) on respectability politics and the policing in the queer community. The dialogue was successfully facilitated by Pride's very own President, Jonni Lynn, with programming contributions from QLIC President, Tobi Ewing.
The conversation began with the question, “what’s the face/voice of the queer movement?” a valuable question that led to the discussion of what it means to be an ally as a voice in the queer movement, especially at Skidmore College. We spoke about how being a queer ally has become a trendy form of identity without understanding the complications in doing so. Pronouncing oneself as an ally has become an act of putting on a badge of honor to fight for the rights of others without understanding the deep and nitty gritty complications of oppression and privilege. We went on to discuss the frustrations of claiming to be an ally without actually BEING an ally by doing social justice work. In this sense, allyship becomes a defense mechanism where people are “accepting” of everyone’s differences but do not put in the time, energy, or effort to actively fight for social justice change.
We then moved on to talk about terms of identity within the queer community that are are policed as derogatory terms. A few examples that Jonni offered were ‘dyke’, ‘fag’, ‘tranny’, and ‘sissy’. Participants in the dialogue expressed how these terms did have a negative meaning growing up but thought it was okay to use for self-identification. We then connected this to how people feel obligated to explain themselves when using specific terms. Identifying as a tranny is a personal decision that should not be questioned or challenged because it is being used as a PERSONAL form of identification. The discussion then took its course on discussing ‘acting’ and ‘dressing’ to fit a heterosexual norm in order to be the “accepted” (or "respectable") kind of queer individual.
This includes queer individuals that feel that gay marriage is a win for ALL queer people and rejecting other structures that do not fit the heterosexual template consisting of a happy monogamous marriage with a happy nuclear family. Is it possible for queer politics to involve embracing other forms of family structures and romantic partnerships?
We also discussed the implications of respectability politics in terms of privilege within the queer community. Queer White upper class individuals in many cases feel entitled to police the different terms of identification for queer members.  This was brought up in the conversation as something native to the values of colonialism. Hence, respectability politics becomes an issue concerning power dynamics within the queer community and accepting some while shunning other types of queer identity.
To conclude our stimulating conversation, participants reinforced their stance on how queer politics should be accepting of all forms of identification and ALL forms of expression. There is no right or wrong answer to identity and we need to embrace the complexity of self-identification. Queer identifications are a personal chose that is “freely expressed” not “imposed.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Event Highlight: Professor Chandra Mohanty Lecture - "Transnational Feminist Dialogues on Neoliberalism and Radical Praxis" 09.25.14.

"Creating collectivity is the way to survive."
By Timothy Kim '15

On September 25th, Professor Chandra Talpade Mohanty from Syracuse University spoke for the  Gender Studies Program's Karen Levin Coburn '63 Lecture. As an expert on transnational feminist theory, anti-capitalist feminist praxis, and anti-racist education, Professor Mohanty provided in-depth knowledge and insight regarding the politics of neoliberalism and its effects on feminist and anti-racist movements under the title of "Transnational Feminist Dialogues on Neoliberalism and Radical Praxis."

Definitely, Professor Mohanty's insight of the politics of neoliberalism was the highlight of the lecture. Over the past three years at Skidmore, I did not have that many opportunities to discuss the topic of neoliberalism except in classes taught by specific professors. As an International Affairs major, I believe that neoliberalism should be at the core of my classes. However, we mostly just went over the terminology without diving into the specific impact that neoliberalism has on politics, economics, culture, education, and basically everything! Professor Mohanty's analysis of neoliberalism explained how much neoliberal thought has been influencing our lives, which I had never heard on this campus.

Professor Mohanty argued that by privatizing social justice commitments, neoliberalism encouraged the disappearance of feminist and anti-racist conversations. I see that such influence of neoliberalism is relevant to our campus. Throughout my time at Skidmore, I have experienced a culture of not talking about racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of discrimination. People here do not want to be exposed to uncomfortable feelings, which leads to a thought that avoiding the "ugly talks" is how we form a community.

As a person in academia, Professor Mohanty said that she is working for change on the level of academia by forming solidarity and fighting neoliberalism with the goal of creating feminist and anti-racist movements. She emphasized while her ultimate dream is to see change in the whole world, she said that her role is to combat sexism, racism, and all the different forms of discrimination from where she is: academia. Professor Mohanty believes that such movements from the bottom can be the only way to bring social justice in our society.

As a response to Professor Mohanty's comment, a faculty member of Skidmore raised a question how can we fight against the institution, which is strongly embedded with a neoliberal culture. Professor Mohanty replied honestly by saying that it will be extremely hard to accomplish. However, she also urged that the people of color (and anti-racist whites) should come together and create a support system on this campus. Professor Mohanty said that such collective action is the only way for the people with marginalized identities at within higher education institutions can survive.

Being a senior here at Skidmore, I think it is easy to disregard the problems that occur on campus and just think and plan for post-graduation. However, Professor Mohanty's lecture reminded me of how I am still part of this community and how I should take part in fighting the injustices that reside on this campus. As Professor Mohanty suggested I will be more aware in both being the support and seeking support when facing prejudice on this campus, and I invite all of you (EVERY SINGLE ONE!) to be part in creating a support system to fight the deeply rooted cultural and institutional discrimination.

1. Do you need a support system here at Skidmore? This is why OSDP exists on this campus. Never hesitate to stop by our office in Case Center. We are always here and available for you.

2. Do you want to be part of already existing groups on campus that can be your support system? Check out the different OSDP clubs. They will be more than willing to connect with you. Click HERE for information of all the clubs.

3. Do you want to know more about neoliberalism and its impact on higher education? Here are some resources, but there are a lot more out there. Do some more research on your own and share them with us on our Facebook page.