Thursday, April 16, 2015

Student Spotlight: Tsering Choden '17, Asian Cultural Awareness Club President

By Gerolly Lorenzo '15
From left to right: Diki Dolma '17, Tsering Choden '17, Timothy Kim '15 and Dikyi Wangmo '18

Where are you from? What is your major? 
Originally I’m from Nepal but I live in NYC, Queens. My major is Environmental Studies.

What is your favorite part about being a part of ACA?
I guess when I started out I wanted to be more involved and out there and I realized I could do more in ACA and have more of an impact on the students.

How has being part of ACA impacted or influenced your time at Skidmore? 
It has made me more aware about different kinds of issues especially with identity. It hasn’t been long since I came here from America so the shift was very overwhelming because over there I’m a part of majority. My first year it felt weird because it dawns on you to be part of the minority. After joining ACA I met people that felt the same way and people that I connected with. It was about raising awareness and the importance of standing together.
Who is someone that you consider a role model or are inspired by?
I actually don’t have that kind of person. Instead of having that person I get inspired by regular people that I actually see and come in contact with. Big personalities feel distant to me and so I get inspired by people near me that I can talk to and interact with. So like friends or professors.

What is one thing that you are passionate about?
I don’t know what I’m passionate about. I like being involved in things like being in the flow of things or watching from the distance. I like being involved in anything in a conversation or any work activity.

What is your favorite event in ACA? 
Cultural Night Market. I also enjoyed East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference we attended. I’m also very excited about the comedy/poetry night we are having soon.

What are some upcoming events or programming for ACA?
Our Annual ACA Dinner and the comedy/poetry night with Hari Kondabolu and Alex Dang.

What is a fun fact that most people do not know about you? 
I can be very sarcastic with my jokes even though people see me as quiet. I also mimic people I’ve known for a long time very well.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Student Spotlight: Rula Issa '17, Hayat President

By Timothy Kim '15

(from left) Mohammed Almashhadani, Rula Issa, Masum Rumi at Eid al Adha celebration
What is your major? Where are you from?
I am a Sociology and International Affairs double major. I'm originally from Bosnia but have been living in Ohio.

Why/how did you end up at Skidmore?
I ended up at Skidmore because of the Opportunity Program. 

What convinced you to join Hayat and later E-board?
I am Muslim and joining Hayat was a way for me to have a safe space at Skidmore to talk about issues and to find people that have the same experiences as me.

What is Hayat's goal on campus?
Our goal is to promote the cultures surrounding the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South Asia. We hold events such as lectures and movie screenings. We celebrate certain holidays and traditions from these areas such as Diwali and Eid al Adha. We also dialogue about current issues surrounding Islam and conflicts in the Middle East and South Asia as well.

How does Hayat relate to your identity here at Skidmore? Does it help, does it make you question your identity, solidify or make your identity stronger?
Hayat relates to my identity, because I am Middle Eastern and I am Muslim as well. By being at Skidmore, which is a predominantly White school, I already question my identity a lot. Hayat gives me a space where I can connect with people who share the same experiences as I do, and Hayat helps me feel more comfortable with my identity.

What is your favorite Hayat event and why?
I think my favorite Hayat event is the Eid al Adha celebration we did at the beginning of last semester. It's my favorite event because it was our first event that we threw this academic year. It was also very successful! Personally I enjoyed the event a lot, because I was not able to celebrate Eid for such a long time. So having the opportunity to celebrate it at Skidmore was so great. (Check out the Event Highlight of Eid Dinner that Hayat hosted last semester. Click HERE!)

What are some Hayat's future plans?
We plan on holding more events like lectures, such as a talk on what is Islam or about current issues in the Middle East or South Asia.

What other clubs/activities on campus are you involved in?
I was also an active member of United Minds, which is another OSDP club.

Interested in joining Hayat?
Hayat has its general meetings on Thursdays at 6pm in the ICC.
Hayat also has great events coming up, so keep an out for them!
Also, check out and "like" Hayat's Facebook Page.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Event Highlight: Ujima Fashion Show 2.7.15

By Tobi Ewing '14

On Saturday, February 7, 2015, UJIMA celebrated the cultures and people of the black diaspora with their 24th Annual Fashion Show “All the Way Home”! The fashion show was hosted in JKB and brought out a crowd of over 100 students. This year’s show was directed by three brave and creative first-year students: Maryam Dewitt, Brittany Kent and Jamerly de la Cruz!

I left with my hands red and sore from all the applause I gave. This year’s show was absolutely amazing. The directors crafted the UJIMA show with the perfect balance of education and fashion.  The fashion show featured designers outside of the Saratoga metropolitan area and every scene featured a short visual presentation filled with facts about the black diaspora, cultures, media and positive leaders. Staying true to the mission of UJIMA, the audience left the show not only ready for a shopping spree, but with a rich history and understanding of many Black experiences.

Music was provided by Skidmore’s very own DJ Tesfa and the show had eight attention grabbing scenes!

Scene one, the “Newspaper Scene,” represented telling the world the different experiences of Black culture and to be proud to embrace who you are. This scene was followed by a performance by Skidaiko.
Scene two, the “African Scene,” brought awareness to African cultures. The designs were provided and designed by Charles Atobrah (Tinzclothing).
Scene three, the “Liberia Scene,” brought awareness to the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” This scene was followed by a performance by UJIMA Step Team.
Scene four, the “Caribbean Scene,” accentuated the colorfulness and history of the Caribbean countries.
Scene five, the “Butterfly Scene,” brought awareness to the dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic and the influence of the Minerva Sisters. This scene was followed by a performance by Spontane- US Generation, a rap/spoken work duo out of Cleveland, Ohio.
Scene six, the “N.D.L. Scene,”  highlighted the statistics that are pinned on the Black American community. Numbers Don’t Lie critiqued the connotations behind this “empirical data.”
Scene seven, the “Americanized Scene,” demonstrates the clothing Black cultures have assimilated to once being influenced by American media. 
Scene eight, the “Briefcase Scene” demonstrated one’s journey, returning from their traditional roots and bringing those traditions along with Black people no matter where they go.

After the show, I spoke with Kiara Boone, one of the models and an OSDP student assistant. Kiara stated that her favorite part of the show was walking on the stage in beautiful clothes in front of applauding friends and being able to teach the Skidmore community about her culture in a creative manner! The 24th annual UJIMA Fashion Show, “All The Way Home” was a complete success and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next year!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Student Spotlight: Kevin Wang '17, ISU President

By Kiara Boone '15

(Kevin Wang '17 on left, at the 2014 ISU Potluck.)

What's your major? Where are you from?
I spent much of my childhood in China and moved to the United States when I was nine. I live in Gill, Massachusetts. I am an English major and business minor.  

What convinced you to join ISU and later join e-board?
I had a lot of affection for ISU from the moment I met the e-board during my first club fair. Anyone interested in joining was welcomed with open arms. The club was full of friendly people from all over the world, talented in every way. Having experienced the challenges and joys of being an international student, I wanted to make our campus more global-minded and help other international students in make the most out of their Skidmore experience.

What is ISU's goal on campus?
ISU’s goal is twofold - to promote a sense of community and international awareness among international and domestic students at Skidmore; and to develop club events that foster friendships and intercultural exchange.

How does ISU relate to your identity on campus? Does it help, does it make you question your identity, solidify or make your identity stronger?
ISU enables me to meet other Chinese students and reconnects me to the culture in which I was born. At the same time, ISU builds my knowledge of cultures that I know little about. I have seen countless ways in which ISU events empower students' identities and unite them across differences. 

​What is your favorite ISU event and why?
We have an annual potluck dinner during which students cook and share dishes from their own cultures. Cooks this year hailed from South Korea, France, India, China, Maldives, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan. While the food tasted amazing, cooking with others was half the fun. During the dinner, someone started playing Bollywood music on a speaker and students started dancing. Others joined, playing favorite pop songs from their countries. In the end, we all joined into an unforgettable dance circle. 

What are some of ISU's future plans for Skidmore?
ISU looks forward to continued growth in maturity and in services to students. While preserving favorites like the cultural show, we are focused on creating more current-events based activities like the various lecture-discussions and panel on the Hong Kong protests from last semester.  

Interested in ISU? 
ISU hosts general meetings every Wednesday 8-9pm in the ICC.
Join ISU's Facebook Group for more information.
Check out the OSDP Calendar for upcoming ISU events!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Event Highlight: Movement for Justice in El Barrio - Lecture and Q&A 11.19.14

El Movimiento on Gentrification
by Gerolly Lorenzo '15

In collaboration with OSDP, Raices invited Juan Harro, an organizer with Movement for Justice in El Barrio, to come to speak to us about the gentrification movement organized in East Harlem (El Barrio), New York City for Latino Heritage Month. Movement for Justice in El Barrio is an immigrant-led, grassroots organization that began fighting against vicious practices done by landlords to displace low-income families. The movement was organized mainly by immigrant women residing in the neighborhood. Movement for Justice in El Barrio serves to challenge the many forms of housing injustice that immigrants face in their day-to-day life. They are committed and relentless towards social justice work in East Harlem. Many of the members attend “encuentros” or meetings after a long day of work to organize and practice collective decision-making democracy to address the injustices they personally experience. Movement in El Barrio draws much of their structural organization from the Zapatista Movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Sitting at this event was particularly interesting for myself.

I live in New York City and have always been aware of the gentrification that continues to plague the city. However when I realized that I was personally being impacted by the gentrification in my neighborhood, I began to feel hopeless about the many changes rapidly taking over in a place I call home. Every time I go back home I feel less and less at home. My neighborhood in Bushwick (Brooklyn, NY) has been completely altered with new renovated buildings, condos and even fancy assortments of plants. Learning about El Movimiento provided a small sense of hope for myself. Organizing and fighting back does work and it worked for many families in El Barrio. However, as I headed back home for Thanksgiving break, I couldn’t help but feel that we were losing the fight against gentrification. Real estate was winning and so were the new young white people moving in. Gentrifiers don’t understand that Bushwick is not just a place where I sleep at night; it is a community that has offered my family and I the means to survive comfortably in NYC. Within a year my family and I will have to move, and as I spent my last Thanksgiving in my Bushwick home I thought about the various areas where my family and I spent much of our times at: friends’ houses, parks, church, the beauty salons. These community spaces were also our homes and moving away from them will be difficult. I have felt a cloud of hopelessness over my head for a long time. I was bitter and angry about the new gentrified Bushwick or the new “East Williamsburg,” but knowing that organizations like the Movement for Justice in El Barrio was born from this struggle and has triumphed in many battles against gentrification offers a lot of comfort and hope for communities of color being impacted by gentrification.

As Skidmore students we all have a form of agency when addressing issues of gentrification. As we consider moving into a new neighborhood after graduation or during a break we need to be aware of our privilege and our role as gentrifiers. Support organizations that address the concerns of the residents of the community. Be an ally, but remember your role as an ally. As a gentrifier, there are things that can be done to reduce the impact of your privilege. Here is a link with a list of great ways to do this: 20 Ways Not To Be A Gentrifier

Here are a few organizations that formed the NYC Anti-Gentrification Network in 2006 and you can be a part of.

Also, please like the Movement for Justice in El Barrio’s Facebook page for more information and updates on their work.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Event Highlight: Understanding Settler Colonialism with Kat Yang-Stevens 11.11.14.

by Timothy Kim '15
with additional notes from Silvena Chan, Program Coordinator

On November 11th, the Office of Student Diversity Programs invited Kat Yang-Stevens to lead a workshop on settler colonialism and the oppression of indigenous communities, including racism and the barriers to meaningful multicultural dialogue under the title of "Understanding Settler Colonialism as an Ongoing Structure in "Post-Colonial" "Post-Racial" "America"."

Prior to going to the workshop, my knowledge of settler colonialism was very basic and remained only on the surface. I only saw settler colonialism as the initial stage of a group colonizing a nation or territory by immigration and occupying the land for themselves. Therefore, the United States, Canada, and Australia are the main settler colonial states in the world. My knowledge was limited to viewing only the act of settlers massively killing indigenous people and taking over their land as part of settler colonialism. However, through Kat Yang-Stevens's workshop, I was able to see that settler colonialism continues today and is extremely complex.

One main argument that Kat Yang-Stevens presented was that unlike how many only see settler colonialism as the relationship between the indigenous groups and white settlers, in reality it is a crucial part of a strategy to maintain white supremacy in the United States, along with racial logics that continuously define Latinxs, Arabs, and Asians as foreign threats and create conditions that defines Blacks as slaves. Indigenous people have become institutionally segregated after the genocide in early colonial times with the image of being "non-existent" in the country. (We have to remember that the natives never agreed on white Europeans taking over their land.) Moreover, after the system of chattel slavery, black people have been thrust into the prison industrial complex with tools such as the war drugs and mass incarceration, a context that re-asserts slavery-based capitalism. Kat Yang-Stevens stated that through such tactics of white supremacy, white people have been able to maintain their status of being the oppressors and the natives and black Americans continue to fall under the category of "second-class citizens."

Another main aspect that Kat Yang-Stevens discussed extensively was how the concept of Orientalism is used as a strategy of settler colonialism. The Orient has been referred to as the "non-west" and includes mainly the Middle East and Asia. It is perceived as "exotic" and "different," which creates the notion of Orientalism that the West is a superior culture to compared to "othered" nations while such countries pose potential threats. Kat Yang-Stevens argued that Orientalism is also embedded in the society of the United States, and Latinxs, Arab Americans and Asian Americans are the target of such a concept. Kat Yang-Stevens explained that Latinxs, Arabs, and Asians are constructed as a constant threat to the country and not actually citizens of this country. The construction of a threat allows the US to claim a constant state of war and danger, which justifies increased militarization of borders, erosion of civil liberties and social services, and overseas interventions (including killing civilians).

As an Asian in this country, it is both easy and comfortable to be trapped in the "model minority myth," which literally suggests Asians as a "model" minority that does not cause trouble or disruption and strives for the "American dream." The model minority myth, which is another tactic of settler colonialism, created the idea of Asians can obtain a "decent" status in the United States with the condition of remaining silent. As a result, there has been a culture formed of not speaking up and not acting upon injustices, and, ultimately, not siding with our other friends of color, who have been subject of extreme "white violence." (There have been Asian social justice movements and great Asian American social justice leaders, but there has been a lack of support from the wider Asian community.) I am not suggesting that Asians have not been victims of white supremacy or white oppression. We have suffered from great deal of racial profiling, xenophobia, hostility, exclusion, ignorance, and cultural appropriation. The list goes on and on. Nevertheless, many of us have chose to remain comfortable where we are situated in this society. I believe that Asians here in this country should stop not talking, educating, and acting on social injustices that are so deeply rooted in this country just because it doesn't "directly" affect us.

Last week, the Grand Jury declined indictment for Darren Wilson, who murdered Mike Brown in Ferguson. This week the Grand Jury again decided to not indict the NYPD officer who choked, Eric Gardner. (Eric Gardner was choked and died by the NYPD officer after breaking up a fight.) These horrific cases of black men killed by police brutality clearly shows that white supremacy exists and that we are living in a settler colonial state. It is time that we pay attention and listen to our friends who are in pain and show support and solidarity. It is time to demonstrate that this system is wrong and that we are sick of white supremacy. It is time to come together and unite and find hope that there can be change in this country and this world.

#blacklivesmatter #nojusticenopeace

  • Do you need a space to talk about Ferguson and/or oppressions you have to face? Come to the "I Can't Breathe" Drop-In Hours on Tuesday, 2-7PM in the ICC! We are here for you to listen!
  • Do you want to know more about Kat Yang-Stevens and their work? Click HERE!
  • Do you want to know more about White Supremacy? Click HERE!
  • Do you want to know more about the Model Minority Myth? Click HERE!

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.