Attendance at Diversity Weekend events lower than anticipated

By Brian Martucci

It may not have been evident from a casual glance around campus, but last weekend was Macalester’s sixth annual Diversity Weekend. The event was started by various student organizations to combat Macalester’s perceived international bias and is traditionally sponsored and supported by the Program Board (PB). Many felt that this year’s event suffered from a lack of advertising and of awareness in general among the student body, in contrast to previous Diversity Weekends which were well-publicized and well-attended. Many of the weekend’s sponsored events were not well-attended, with the exception of the “Salsa Del Sol” dance on Friday night.

“Kagin was packed,” said Sherry Kuriskinkal ’09, who attended the dance for most of the night. “Even though a lot of people didn’t know how to salsa dance, it gave everyone the chance to come out and look good. And salsa is sexy.”

Alex Flores ’08, a key organizer of this year’s Diversity Weekend, built on this theme but was more critical, questioning the depth of Macalester’s commitment to domestic multiculturalism.

“The organizational problems we faced were the result of a lack of institutionalization and permanence in planning this event on a school-wide scale each year,” he said. “Macalester’s apathy toward domestic students of color [is] increasingly evidenced by budget decisions and the lack of assistance provided.”

Asked about the perceived lack of advertising for the weekend, Carmen Phillips ’08, another of the weekend’s organizers, stressed that there was a tight cap on spending for the weekend.

“We advertised to the best of our means without going over our budget,” Phillips said.

She also noted that the style and presentation of this year’s advertising was made similar to last year’s in an effort to make it more recognizable to upperclassmen members of the student body.

Diversity Weekend was initially conceived as a response to “the lack of institutional support for domestic students of color” on campus, Will Clarke ’07, a past organizer of the event, said. The Dean of Multicultural Life position, for example, is only three years old.

The inspiration for Diversity Weekend came during a previous year’s International Roundtable, Clark said. As opposed to the “purely academic” Roundtable, Diversity Weekend’s founders wanted their event to be a “student-organized, organic, grassroots cultural event,” he said. As a result, the weekend is significantly less structured.

“[Diversity Weekend is] a good opportunity to work with others you normally would not have worked with,” Phillips said. “There are definitely positives to being student-organized.” She added that there are no plans to hand off planning of Diversity Weekend to the administration, though.

There is support among members of Macalester’s. “We have great allies in people like [Director of Campus Programming] Brian Wagner, [Dean of Race and Ethnicity] Jane Rhodes, and [Dean of Multicultural Life] Joi Lewis,” she said.

A significant amount of support does come in the form of PB funding. While exact figures were not available, Diversity Weekend’s budget was between $5,000 and $10,000, according to Clarke. This includes all performances, lectures, and advertising-related expenditures.

The weekend kicked off on Thursday, Dec. 1, with a showing of “Higher Learning,” a film that grapples with the weekend’s theme of access to educational opportunities. On Friday, Dean Rhodes gave a lecture in called, “The State of Multiculturalism in Higher Education Today”, which was followed by the “Salsa Del Sol” show and dance in Kagin.

Saturday boasted three events. A luncheon with local state representative Carlos Mariani ’72 was followed by an informal reception. The third event was Diversity Weekend’s centerpiece: a keynote address by University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman Hrabowski, entitled “Education, Privilege and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century.