Ithaca College Holds First Diversity Town Hall Meeting

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In light of Michael Brown, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and the ongoing national debate regarding institutionalized racism, students at Ithaca College held the school’s first diversity town hall meeting. Student leaders gathered this afternoon to discuss and brainstorm ideas to work toward a more diverse campus, focusing primarily on diversity issues related to the college’s African, Latino/a, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) community, but also including topics such as gender and sexually.

Instead of just talking about the issue, students were asked to come up with specific solutions to problems in which they feel are directly related to a lack of diversity on campus. Maybe someone of color was given odd looks as soon as they stepped into a room full of white people. Maybe someone received microaggressive comments from a peer and didn’t know how to handle it. Maybe there aren’t enough professors of color in a school. How can we address these issues, and, more importantly, what are we going to do to prevent these things from happening again?

School administrators sat in on the meeting and took note of the various suggestions that students had for diversifying the campus. Students also participated in a series of discussion-based activities, such as filling out an identity worksheet in order to share the most salient parts of their identity.

The town hall meeting today served as the infrastructure to a future of possibilities. The idea here was to start planning a course of action–what can we do as students to help make the campus a more inviting place for students of color? We’ve had endless discussions about the problem, so now it’s time to actually do something about it.


Givenchy’s “Chola Victorian” Show Celebrates The Chola-Glamor Aesthetic

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Givenchy’s Fall 2015 show stirred up the fashion scene, arousing many bloggers and self-proclaimed fashionistas to rave about creative director Riccardo Tisci’s “bold” accessory choices. “Beautiful! Scene-stealing! Those bright colors and beautiful textures!” were some of the phrases used to describe the show.

While the intricate designs of the clothing itself accentuated Tisci’s sleek style, the theme of the show, “Chola Victorian”, raised some slicked-down eyebrows.

Givenchy Fall 2015 show
Givenchy Fall 2015 show

The term chola first originated in the gang-ridden parts of Southern California throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. It describes a “working-class, young Mexican-American female from the barrios of the southwest with a very distinct aesthetic, style, and attitude.” The history of this lifestyle, however, dates back to the early 20th-century Mexican Repatriation, where millions of people of Mexican descent were pressured to leave the United States and suffered from internalized racism and oppression. As many as 1.2 million of those forced to leave were United States citizens.

Being used first as a derogatory term, Mexican-American youths of Southern California began to self-identify as cholas/cholos (male version of chola) as a method of self-empowerment and identity. Most teens who identified as chola came from impoverished backgrounds full of gang warfare. The term became a way for Mexican-Americans to express the “strength and creative independence it takes to survive in a society where your social mobility has been thwarted by racism.”

Nowadays, chola culture is celebrated and perpetuated mostly throughout the music and fashion industries. The term is associated with gang violence, big hoop earrings, pencil-thin eyebrows and slicked-down baby hairs and is used more as a costume than to represent the specific Mexican-American subculture. Pop singers like Lana Del Rey and Rihanna romanticize the chola aesthetic, donning stereotypical accessories to look “bad-ass”.

Singer Rihanna wearing a stereotypical chola costume
Singer Rihanna wearing a stereotypical chola costume

In recent years, fashion moguls like Givenchy have incorporated ethnic looks into their designs to bring an air of “edge” to their looks. However, when a person of color is seen with that same aesthetic, it is deemed “low-class” and “ratchet”. At what point, then, does cultural exchange turn into appropriation?

Learning To Recognize Microaggression

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Earlier this week, Ithaca College’s student run newspaper, The Ithacan, published a special opinion piece written by a student. The commentary, which was in response to the release of the school’s 2012 campus climate survey results, primarily focused on the issue of microaggressions still being perpetuated throughout the campus.

According to Psychology Today, microaggressions are defined by the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. A racial microaggression, therefore, would be if a white woman clutched her purse as a person of color walked by on the street, suggesting that their minority group can be dehumanized to merely a bunch of criminals

Perhaps the bigger issue here, however, is that there aren’t a lot of people in our society who are able to recognize them.

A while back, I wrote a piece talking about the various microaggressions I’ve personally had directed toward me. Looking back on it, what struck me the most about writing this piece is the fact that I myself wasn’t able to be conscious of the microaggressive comments I was hearing on a daily basis.

“Where are you really from? You look kind of exotic. You speak English so well for an immigrant! You don’t even act Hispanic.” These were meant to be compliments.

What most–let’s be frank–white people don’t realize is that microaggressions have been hardwired into our culture, allowing those in the majority to sincerely believe that they are not doing anything offensive. An article published in the American Psychological Association suggests that microaggressive comments are made by “well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them”.

There are times where jokes can be made and certain questions can be asked. But we need to educate ourselves on what exactly we are perpetuating when we comment on a specific racial group. Race, in general, is meant to act as a political categorization technique derived as far back as the 15th century. How can we progress as a society if we aren’t able to be aware of racializations?

Maybe we should have paid more attention in elementary school when our teachers taught us to “think before we speak”…

A Night Of Hollywood’s Whitest

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The 87th Annual Academy Awards show is a time for film buffs and cinematography enthusiasts to celebrate the year’s best in show and argue for hours on end about which movie should have won for Best Screenplay. It is a time for glitzy gowns to be showcased on the famous red carpet, and for viewers watching at home to peer into the world of Hollywood movie stars. The only thing that’s missing from this world of glamour and finesse is something that hasn’t been around for several decades–diversity.

This year’s host of the prestigious awards show, Neil Patrick Harris, opened up the event with a joke that brought up a good point: “Tonight we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest–I mean, brightest”.

The Academy, the ones who pick the winners, is made up of 94% whites and 77% males, with an average member age of 63 years.

That being said, it is important to note that this year’s Oscars held the least amount of diversity since 1998.

Among the nominees this year, there were no people of color present. In other categories, female screenwriters, directors or cinematographers weren’t nominated as well, leaving the stage to be set for primarily white, male actors and film makers.

via Huffington Post
A look at this year’s primarily white nominees (via Huffington Post)

Viewers took notice of the lack of diversity, and took to Twitter to lash out against the white-dominating industry, using the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite to jokingly point out the overall “whiteness” of the awards show.

This year, John Legend and Common’s win for Best Original Song was only the 32nd time in 87 years that a black person has won an Oscar. That’s 32 wins from a person of color out of more than 3,000 winners. And the times they did win, they won for perfectly portraying the role of a struggling minority (i.e. Octavia Spencer in The Help). Yikes.

More often than not, the entertainment industry has become submerged in Caucasian power. So the question here is, how do we break the habit?

Ithaca Celebrates Black History Month With Communal Events

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February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and learn about the vast historical milestones of blacks around the world. From Jackie Robinson to Maya Angelou, this particular month celebrates both people and events that illustrate just how important it is to promote the education of significant black historical figures who have influenced today’s society.

From a more local point of view, February is a time for the people of Ithaca to commemorate the different cultures spread across the town, as well as within Ithaca College. Promoting both diversity and a communal education, “Ithacans” gathered to create a broad celebration of the different features of black culture.

Ithaca College’s African Latino Society (ALS) held a string of events throughout the month to promote said education on campus, each focusing on a different theme regarding black history and/or current political, social and cultural issues related to race and ethnicity. The events ranged from a screening and discussion of the film Brown Sugarto lectures on selected topics.

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Kendrick Lamar Brings Some Much-Needed Attention with New Single

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Two days ago, hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar dropped his new single “The Blacker The Berry“. Since then, Lamar has made quite the headlines, even having his track annotated on Genius.com by Pulitzer-prize winning author Michael Chabon.

Easily said to be one of the best songs of 2015, the track alludes to Wallace Thurman’s novel (of the same title), which was one of the first publications to openly address color prejudice during the Harlem Renaissance.

Similar to Thurman, Lamar incorporates raw, racially-packed lyrics to create a narrative on the “generational hatred” toward blacks. The harsh synth beats and Lamar’s powerful delivery produces a completely opposite feeling from his Grammy-winning soul track “i”, which preaches the positive, uplifting mantra of loving yourself and the skin you’re in. Lyrics such as “You hate me don’t you?/You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture” and “You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me/And this is more than confession” make “i” look like a measly radio-friendly pop track.

Along with “Berry”, musicians within the hip-hop community are joining the effort to speak out against a white-dominated industry. Pharrell Williams’ Grammy performance of “Happy” showed reference to “Hands up, Don’t Shoot“. J. Cole surprised fans by performing “Be Free“, a song he wrote in response to the Michael Brown shooting, on the David Letterman Show. Even Kanye West’s quasi-interruption of Beck’s Grammy acceptance speech stemmed from the rapper’s frustration toward the music industry’s preference of white genres, such as rock, over hip hop.

It is also important to keep in mind that this was the first time in 25 years that the Grammys did not televise the hip hop category, raising the question of whether or not the music industry is indeed attempting to whitewash hip hop.

Lamar’s track has truly perked some ears within the last couple of days, which only makes us anxious to see what the rest of his new album has in store.

Learning To Talk About The Problem: An Introduction to Racism And Social Reform

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After the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, racism became the standard discussion topic for young adults nationwide. Throughout the months of November and December, people used social media to express the immense outrage that was felt toward the jury’s decision. Riots flourished throughout every corner of Ferguson, and even made their way to the streets of New York City. Cases such as Eric Garner, Ramarley Graham and Trayvon Martin fueled the people’s drive to bring about justice and social reform. Locally, Ithaca College students organized their own lie-down demonstrations, banding together to join the fight against racial injustices. It seemed as if a political snowball effect had begun to rouse the population.

But after all the hashtags were tweeted and the demonstrations began to disperse, the protesting trend faded into the background. Nowadays, the world only pays attention to a certain topic if it is current, or “in the now”. Looking at the news headlines today, there isn’t much said about racism or the police brutality cases. It’s almost as if they have disappeared into the background.

It’s unrealistic to think that after a few protests and wearing #BlackLivesMatter t-shirts, the world will suddenly change the way it perceives race and ethnicity. The battle against racism has been a constant struggle for many. But with all the social advances we have made over the years, why is it still so hard to keep this particular hashtag trending?

In today’s fast-paced and social media-fueled society, news is constantly being regurgitated by social media outlets, television stations and radio broadcasts. We have the ability to literally hold all the world’s information in the palm of our hands. It’s only natural that our short attention spans only retain the urge to fight against racism for so long. Yet if we want to galvanize any sort of change, it is vital that we keep this discussion going.

We all have the capacity to do this. Talk with neighbors, talk with friends, talk with family members. The key here is to keep the topic alive. There’s no point in starting a movement if it is simply going to be forgotten in the dust. It’s time to become proactive, and not just simply reactive. If not now, then when?

Additional educational sources: 

American Civil Liberties Union

Brennan Center for Justice 

Race Forward 

U.S. Human Rights Fund