Attendees escaped a rainy night to meet in the dimly lit Sycamore Lounge on Sept. 26. Guest speakers waited patiently under fluorescent lights as the camera crew prepared to film episode one of The Couch Convos’ “This is College” series.
Episode one, “Defining Diversity,” explored the importance of diversity in today’s world and on college campuses.
Poet Jason Snow began the program with a spoken word piece titled “The Cycle Continues,” which encouraged listeners to repair society and implement change.
Following Snow’s tone, the show’s charismatic hosts, Kyndra Goodwin and Omar McGill (aka Peanut Butter), opened the conversation with a single question: what is diversity?
“To me, diversity is…not just a quota,” said Naimah Stevens, the Black Student Union’s vice president.
“It’s not just faces that you see. It’s those people having genuine connections. It’s one thing to say we have a freshman class that’s 50 percent black, and it’s a good thing they can see each other when they’re on this campus, but if they’re not interacting with everyone else, then that’s not diversity.”
“Diversity is when we can learn from each other…It’s when we can build experiences,” Stevens emphasized.
“Diversity to me is learning. It’s appreciation, and it’s really just getting to know a group that’s really not yours,” said Lydia Joy.
Joy shared Stevens’ sentiments as well. She stated that while ESU’s diversity is praised, the institution’s support and funding for diverse groups falls short. “We’re seen as like a burden on this campus,” said Joy.
“You can brag about being diverse, but if you’re not appreciating the diverse group, then what are you really doing? If you’re not trying to learn about the diverse group, then what are you really doing?”
Kenya Thompson, the diversity committee’s event coordinator, explained that for her, diversity is simply difference and a way of life. “I skateboard. I do different things that people may not even expect me to do because of their mistaken interpretation of diversity,” said Thompson.
Koranteng N. Orosu Jr., who also goes by Kaye Omega, had a broader perspective. After being exposed to other cultures through travel, he feels “you just have to be open-minded.” “As long as you’re open-minded, every opinion makes your life richer.”
Later in the conversation, Stevens clarified that students don’t have to be black to join the Black Student Union. She thinks when organizations work together, the possibilities are limitless, and true diversity is the ultimate byproduct.
“Don’t ever feel like because there’s a stigma around this community that I’m not going to reach out to you,” she began.
“Not only do I want to reach out to you, I want to bring you in this club…I want to introduce you to black culture. Black culture is more than just BET (Black Entertainment Television). And I want you to introduce me to what’s going on in your club. What are the issues that you’re fighting for?”
Additional acts also contributed to the show’s creative energy. Joy sang “Mona Lisa” by Jazmine Sullivan, Omega performed his song “Hallelujah Amen,” and Naijaa Michel recited her poem, “The Crown on My Head.”
The Couch Convos is presented by OMA (Office of Multicultural Affairs) and RHA (The Residence Hall Association). However, the project was founded by Saide Ali in 2016, earning him a Lehigh University Community Digital Media Award in 2017.
Ali eventually asked ESU student, Shane Wolf, to be part of The Couch Convos. Ali was familiar with Wolf’s videography, and he believed his vision as a director could help successfully launch the project on campus.
Since The Couch Convos’ inception, Wolf loved the conversation. The program is “creating a safe space for people who are different,” he said.
Wolf hopes to “create something visually striking.” The people, content, and setting will change, and he might even incorporate faculty. “Expect a whole lot more…It’s never going to be the same. Every single couch convo is really intimate and unique in its own way,” teased Wolf.
The series’ last two events will address depression, mental health, and self-discovery. Attendees can join the conversation at Lenape Hall on Nov. 7 and 14 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
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