It’s incredible how a small student organization on a small college campus can make such a huge impact on one individual’s life.
I must have shared the following story countless times in the last year and a half. I have no doubt there will be countless more. For those who have heard this story time and time again, bear with me as I share it once more to set the stage for this blog post…
When I was a first-year student at my small liberal arts college in a predominantly white, affluent area, I was miserable. I was upset by the number of tactlessly-worded questions and demeaning comments I received regarding my race and culture — and sometimes it wouldn’t even be directed at me; there were so many times I overheard awful things said about another person or group of people based on their different identities! I was particularly upset by the fact that I was told not to be upset, that I was just being “oversensitive” and “thin-skinned,” that this is just “something to be expected” for “someone like me.” I was upset by how little the people around me seemed to care or notice that I felt like I was stranded on an island — unless, of course, it was only to remind me further that I was the other by way of their disparaging remarks. And I was upset that I was not the only one who felt this way, that there were many others who were similarly frustrated but helpless. So, I felt driven to transfer out of this environment that brought me so much frustration.
Somewhere along the way, though, that drive to transfer to somewhere “better” became a drive to better the place where I already was.
It started out as a coping mechanism. I even remember describing my idea as a “support group” in the beginning stages of trying to establish a new student organization. I had wanted so desperately to find a community where I belonged, where my experiences as a person of color could be heard and validated rather than denied and dismissed. And I decided, Hell, if I can’t find it here, I’m going to create it here. So I redirected my anger and frustration into planning and productivity. If the fall trimester of my freshman year was where I discovered the passion and fire God placed on my heart for all of this, the winter trimester was where I began to search for the means with which to express that passion. The entirety of that winter term was devoted to laying the groundwork for this outlet. I was reading articles in scholarly journals and books on racism and other forms of discrimination; I was in and out of faculty offices, bouncing ideas off people back and forth, recruiting interested students, filling out paperwork, and recording every little thought I had for a meeting or for an event. Spring term brought with it the e-mail that this very outlet, this coping mechanism that would improve my own college experience, Mosaic, was officially recognized as a student organization.
I don’t even remember what our first meeting was about. I really don’t. I just remember sitting in the basement of my college’s coffeehouse with five or six other students, on fire with nerves and the awe that this was really happening, that there were people here who really do care.
In fact, I don’t remember a lot about the “early days.” This was entirely new territory to me; I didn’t come to college with the intent of becoming a founding president of a student organization, after all. I had no clue, frankly, what I was doing. To be completely honest, most of Mosaic in its early stages as a club just consisted of me getting angry at or saddened by or driven to do something about the next racist/sexist/homophobic thing I saw in the media or heard on campus and then having a meeting about it. But what was beautiful about Mosaic was that it was quickly becoming a space for others who, just like me, got sad, angry, and driven by the same things, and structure began to form out of this passion.
The 2015-2016 school year brought with it many things: my sophomore year (and all the personal moments of growth accompanying it), a new class of first-year students, and the first opportunity Mosaic would have at a full school year to be in action. And Mosaic has had an adventure of a school year.
For one thing, it quickly became clear that bi-weekly meetings were not cutting it–not for myself, not for Mosaic members. So we implemented regular meetings every week rather than every other week. With over 140 (!!!) students and faculty on the email list receiving weekly newsletters and updates regarding our meetings and events, Mosaic quickly found its name onto campus. So, just because I want to brag about my baby, here’s a list of just a few things we’ve done…
- “Unpacking Political Correctness,” a panel which featured seven students of varying racial/ethnic identites, gender identities, sexual orientations, and religious practices, sharing their experiences of discrimination based on these different backgrounds
- “De-Stereotype Me” button making, the opportunity for students to make their own buttons which that fill in the blanks “I am ________ but I am not ________” in an effort to debunk stereotypes regarding someone’s identity (for example, “I am Asian but I am not a math wizard”)
- #NCCDiversityOfLove photoshoot, a photobooth in one of our dining halls which offered the opportunity for students to write on a whiteboard what love means to them
- Ask A…, an informal panel which featured 20+ students who were willing to stand outside our main building and answer questions by passersby regarding their identities
- March in Solidarity with Mizzou, perhaps one of the most contentious events to occur on our campus; in response to the racially-charged events at Mizzou and in an attempt to declare that we would not tolerate such events on our own campus, Mosaic and other multicultural student organizations planned a march within 24 hours, drawing out a crowd of over 100 students and faculty members
I could list every single weekly meeting we’ve had this year, too, but that would mean adding about 25 other items to that list. These weekly meetings are just as, if not even more, significant as those “larger” events. Every week, we’ve gathered in the basement of our campus coffeehouse to discuss a diversity-related social issue. Topics have included the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Macklemore’s “White Privilege II,” the effects of the use (or lack thereof) of inclusive language in presidential campaigns, how the events of 9/11 have affected non-Muslim Arab Americans, cultural standards of beauty; the list goes on and on. We hosted our largest discussion to date with over 30+ students, faculty, and administration (including the president of our college!) in attendance when our campus was chalked up with political, divisive, and debate-inducing statements. It has been through sharing and listening to people’s different perspectives on these many issues over the last year that a community truly began forming, a community passionate about spreading awareness regarding issues experienced by people who aren’t always listened to.
I mentioned earlier that Mosaic was a coping mechanism for me, that Mosaic was conceived out of an ultimatum — to either create the community I wanted or leave and find it elsewhere. I had no idea that Mosaic would become just as meaningful to other people. Over this past school year, I have been stunned to hear from students and faculty such fervent and sincere words of thanks that there exists a space on campus for these intentional and deep conversations to occur. I have been even more stunned — floored, even — to hear from other students the very words I’ve articulated to myself: “If it wasn’t for Mosaic, I would have transferred.”
I need to take a moment after typing that. I cannot even begin to articulate how meaningful those words are to me. How astonished, astounded, staggered, and stupefied I am to know that the work with Mosaic that I do, which I honestly didn’t even think could mean that much to someone else, actually does. It had simply just been a fact of life for me that I was doing all this. I have a bad habit of discounting myself and my efforts, and that is so clear when I consider how surprised I am upon hearing the impact Mosaic has made. But it is exactly for that impact Mosaic has made, for the students who have said, “If it wasn’t for Mosaic, I would have transferred,” that I continue to strive every day to make Mosaic as successful as possible.
And now, we’ve just won Student Organization of the Year.
Not only did we win the award for Student Organization of the Year, we also won awards for Program of the Year (for our “Ask A…” event) and Most S.O.A.R. Points (for attending the most organization-building workshops and events hosted by the Office of Student Involvement).
I have to admit, though, I’ve been really selfish about Mosaic. I’m so emotionally invested in it. While it started out as a coping mechanism for me, it’s also been a platform for myself to develop and exercise my leadership skills. Honestly, I’ve put more time and effort into Mosaic than I have into my academics. I have placed more emphasis on planning events, facilitating meetings, and establishing connections within this organization, with students who have felt similarly as I have, than I have on getting an A (though I am proud to say that despite this apparent imbalance between Mosaic and academics, I have maintained my spot on the Dean’s List every single term since the start of my freshman year). I have heard it said countless times over the last year, both by myself and others, that Mosaic is my baby.
So, as any “parent” would, I love my baby. I’ve worked so hard on it. I’ve put forth so much time and effort into thinking of ways it can grow and succeed. I’ve invested my own money in it. I’ve invested my own emotions in it. All of my emotions in it, honestly. And I’ve gotten to let people into it, whether or not they know that a very large part of Mosaic is essentially an extension of my own self — my vision, my organization, my planning, my passion, etc. Don’t get me wrong, though, I know I’ve had blind spots with Mosaic, where things have fallen through the cracks or where we haven’t accommodated every single student as successfully as I’d have liked. My baby isn’t perfect, and I am well aware of that. I want for nothing more than to keep working on improving it, to continue finding new and innovative ways to reach students on campus, and to separate myself from my selfishness regarding my baby. Despite all that, I love Mosaic anyway. And from the three awards we’ve just won, it looks like a lot of other people do, too, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. We have accomplished so much within just one school year.
Now, I’m getting ready to part ways with it — temporarily, at least. Next school year, thanks to studying abroad in Scotland and away again in Chicago for the majority of the year, I won’t be around to “take care” of my baby. While that might have sent me into a panic a few months ago, now, I couldn’t be more excited. At the end of the day, even though I’ve put so much of myself into it, Mosaic isn’t about me. It ultimately never has been. Otherwise, I would have transferred out and saved my own skin rather than sticking around to create a whole community. No, it’s an organization for college students who need a space to have these discussions, created by college students who want to have these discussions. Next year, my baby will become their baby. And I am so excited to see how it will grow under their care, what changes they will create on campus using Mosaic’s platform. They’ve already demonstrated so much dedication and passion for everything Mosaic stands for. There are no rules or expectations other than the mission to keep creating a space for intentional discussions regarding diversity, to maintain a community of people who need that community and who, as people of diverse backgrounds, need to share their experiences with other students who want to hear them.
This year, at least, Mosaic didn’t just create that community. It also created a family. So many of our members have stuck together throughout this entire year. So many friendships have developed and grown, strengthened by a common passion for conversations and social justice. The amount of love I have for each person who has dedicated their time and energy to Mosaic and its mission in some way, shape, or form is incalculable. It’s not quantifiable. It’s limitless. Thank you, Mosaic. If it weren’t for you, I might have transferred.