OMA hosts dinner and Heritage 365 discussion

By MICHAEL WAKEMAN | October 10, 2019

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) hosted its second Identity Series and Cuisine Night on Tuesday. These dinners, which take place twice a semester, are part of OMA’s new Heritage 365 initiative, which aims to foster inclusion and celebrate cultural heritage for Latinx, African American, Indigenous and Asian American cultures. Black Heritage 365 co-sponsored the event.

Hosted at OMA’s office at Homewood Apartments, the dinner was an opportunity to learn about others’ identities through both presentation and discussion. Three speakers were invited to present: Calvin Smith, Jr., the director of Student Leadership and Involvement; Dana Broadnax, the director of student conduct; and senior Jeffery Chukwuma, president of the Men of Color Hopkins Alliance. 

Each presentation was given in a slideshow format of each speaker’s chosen identities. Some were presented as videos without commentary and then followed by questions from the audience, while others spoke about their lives and major events that contributed to a significant identity of the formation of their identities. 

“At first I couldn’t think of more than 10 pictures to represent me. But when I went through my photos on my phone, I saw what really mattered to me through the feelings they evoked,” Chukwuma wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “I also saw that many of my identities were paired with others.”

The speakers discussed a wide range of identities at the dinner, exploring the influence of their upbringings, challenges with race and ethnicity, and the joys of family and faith. Their work at Hopkins was recurring theme among the presenters. Some discussed their work at the school, while others talked about volunteering and shadowing, but all discussed their efforts to better the community. 

Smith presented his identities as a chronological life story, focusing on the sources of his identities, from growing up in his hometown of Norfolk, Va., to participating in college athletics and Greek life, to his business experiences and his family.

“With respect to how I work daily, I think more of the business piece that influences how I function on a day-to-day basis, but I think the sports piece, and even my joining my fraternity, a lot of that has to do with how I engage with students,” Smith said. “Ultimately I had a great experience as an undergrad. I feel like undergrad is such a critical, great time to be alive. If done well, and if done right, it can be such a beautiful developmental experience.”

Broadnax and Chukwuma related their own experiences and identities as well. Broadnax employed the use of PechaKucha, a Japanese form of storytelling that consists of showing 20 slides for 20 seconds each. This format allowed the audience to be engrossed in the visual story, regardless of whether each slide included a photograph, an art piece or a poem.

Broadnax discussed the difficulty she had in narrowing down what images to use to express her identity.

“Some identities I had to trickle down to one image, I could think of eight and I had to figure out which ones I wanted to use, like my identity as a daughter and as a sister and as a friend and as a godmother, as a mentor, as a first-generation college student,” Broadnax said.

Chukwuma discussed his experiences at Hopkins, his racial and ethnic identities, passions and pursuits, religion and how his identities were shaped by new experiences.

“I do think my identity changed when I came to Hopkins.... My parents didn’t enforce the Igbo Nigerian culture because of how much they’ve assimilated,” Chukwuma wrote. “But as I matured through my interactions and relationships with classmates from all over the globe, I had an epiphany that I too came from a beautiful background. I’ve made it a goal to learn anything I can about where I come from.”

The speakers also touched on common issues facing students — deciding on future careers, adapting to life at Hopkins and working with professionals.

“The purpose of that presentation, for me, was to share that as a professional staff person, I’m a real person. I have flaws, I have a path, I have things that some might view as barriers, but we can overcome those barriers,” Smith said. “I don’t want my sons or any child to think that their circumstances will necessarily go on to dictate their outcome. If you look at my life on paper, you wouldn’t expect me to be where I’m at.”

Smith explained his appreciation for events such as this, which sought to provide professional staff the chance to connect on a deeper level with the students they aim to help and assist. 

“The reality is that we have struggles, we have issues, we have depression, we have doubt, there are people that suffer with addiction. There are so many things that people might be suffering with,” Smith said. “We can’t bring it to work, and sometimes we can share it and then that’s the one beauty of working in the field that I’m working in.... We get to share, and we get to relate with our students and with each other.”

Two more Identity Series and Cuisine Nights will be held in the spring semester as part of a year-long series of Heritage 365 programs. The next dinner will be held on Feb. 14, hosted by Indigenous Heritage 365.

“I didn’t consider myself to have more than five identities until I was asked to do Identity and Cuisine Night. I highly, highly, highly encourage everyone to try it out. You piece together a story about yourself you didn’t know existed,” Chukwuma wrote. “My one piece of advice to everyone, even the introverts, is to talk to as many people as you can. You will never again have the same experiences as you did in college.”

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