As a private institution, NEC isn’t required to cancel classes for national holidays, although many on-campus organizations honor these holidays with events. However, this year for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, classes were canceled for the very first time.
On the 21st, the Office of Diversity hosted a Moving the Dream Forward Dinner with Deo Mwano who spoke on his experiences as a refugee of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He reminisced to the crowd about the amazing community his family found in Manchester and the friends he made in his first few months in “the coldest place in the world” for his family’s prosperity.
The Moving the Dream Forward Dinner was the first event in the month-long celebration of Black History, with twenty events scheduled between the 21st and the end of February. There was a wide variety to choose from so New England College students were sure to find one that interested them.
The cancellation of classes and campus-wide celebration has not gone unnoticed by alumni, Henniker residents, and current New England College students. India Barrows, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion, explains that many events were already scheduled for this month, but she asked they include Black History or join the Moving the Dream Forward organization.
“ResLife already does the Celebration of Black Culture…all I need you to do it put the logo on the flyer and do what you’ve always done,” Barrows said. “If you’re doing the pub trivia during this time period, just make it Black History pub trivia.”
While the Office of Diversity and Inclusion helped to create many of these events, Barrows wanted to make it clear that many of the clubs and student-led organizations chose and ran most on their own. Events like the Moving the Dream Forward Dinner and Freestyle Friday were organized and carried out by the office.
“SEC is bringing [a] spoken word poet, so they knew this was happening, so they made sure the person they chose was kind of in alignment with what our theme is,” explained Barrows. “All the other stuff, it’s other people doing it.” She explained that this was important because she wanted people to “take ownership of doing diversity work.”
Many student-led organizations were involved in this, in the hopes, as Barrows puts it, to “learn from a lens of intersectionality.” Many minority clubs were involved, and many events included backgrounds and interests that can be seen in black culture.
“There’s a black theology event going on in February, talking about being religious and a person of color. I really wanted to bring QSA in for the simple fact that they are QSA and there are queer people of color.”
The representation of minority groups within the African American community was a major goal of Barrows and others who were involved in this month, and they used it as a way to teach intersectionality. “You can be ‘this’ and ‘that.’ Nothing is more important than the other, it’s your experience.”
When asked how these events were chosen, Barrows reached out to the professional community of NEC and many people came to her.
“I thought of it from a professional development side, as a great opportunity for colleagues who don’t get a chance to do committee work.” She was then contacted by twelve people who wanted to be involved in the process and represented almost every faculty-run organization. At the first meeting, Barrows explained her vision to the committee, stating “I want people to know that we all care, not just the office of Diversity and Inclusion because when we work together, we can do more.”
This campus-wide collaboration has shown that the power of teamwork and diverse minds coming together to create a celebration of their differences can have a huge impact. Barrow’s hope that “I just really wanted people to really understand, you have agency in diversity work,” has been showcased in these past few weeks.
“In terms of diversity as a campus-wide effort…I really wanted our students know that we actually care about diversity issues. I do believe that as an institution we do truly care, but we’ve established that we care, what’s the next step of the action?”
This question has sparked a movement on NEC’s campus and has been answered by these events.