Behind the Scenes at Brandeis’ First Diversity Conference

A group of undergrads conceived and organized a daylong conference on diversity

Photo/Mike Lovett

From left: Eric Lin '16, Coco Tirambulo '16, Emily Wu '18, Calvin Wang '16, Stephanie Anciro '16 and Nyah Macklin '16.

Brandeis University's inaugural conference on diversity started from humble beginnings — a Google document shared by three undergraduates.

The conference, "America from Within," was conceived and coordinated entirely by a group of students dedicated to facilitating meaningful conversations on issues underrepresented minorities face on campus.

The idea behind the Brandeis event began last February, when Stephanie Anciro '16, Eric Lin '16 and Coco Tirambulo '16, were discussing the cultural, racial and gender issues they experienced during their time at Brandeis. Realizing they had no platform to connect different voices and perspectives, the students created a shared Google doc, and began fleshing it with ideas for a conference of their own.

"Our ideas kept flooding onto the page," Anciro said. "We were all in our rooms and we all just kept adding to it, and then we said, 'This is something doable, let's see what we can do with this.'"

Turning their ideas into a real conference required the organizers to draw on their years of experience as undergrads. First they went to Dean of Students Jamele Adams to share their concept, then they began to reach out to fellow students, clubs, organizations and departments for input.

“Stephanie, Eric, Coco and the conference team achieved what they set out to do and did it with devotion and commitment to our university family” Adams said. “They recognized the current state of affairs in the world, appreciated a direct bridge to the movements on campus and continued to urge sustained dialogue on diversity within our human community.”

The organizers were committed to making the conference inclusive to all students, faculty and staff.

"We didn’t want this to be about just a single issue or field," Lin said. "We wanted students to connect and find support and empowerment through the different places they are coming from. We asked ourselves, ‘How can we learn from each other?’"

The circle of leadership for the conference eventually grew into a nine-member team, including seniors Calvin Wang, Bethlehem Seifu, Liset Hernandez, Student Union president Nyah Macklin, and sophomores Emily Wu and Sharon Cai.

"We didn't want a conference that just touched the surface of topics; we wanted it to be different, to dive into the real, controversial issues that we as students are dealing with on campuses across the nation," Macklin said. "We wanted to facilitate those conversations and create a safe space where those conversations can happen."

The thoughtful planning paid off. The conference featured workshops led by Brandeis faculty, staff and students on subjects like "Social Exclusion and Diversity," "Breaking Down Walls: Stereotypes and Housing Insecurity," and "Self Defense and Empowerment in an Insecure World." There were also performances and talks by Brandeis students. Justin Kang '09, executive director of City Awake, a nonprofit focused on building civic engagement and social innovation in greater Boston, returned to campus to deliver the keynote.

“It was an honor to participate and share my story of the internal conflict of being an Asian American and a leader. Ultimately though, I came away even more inspired by the organizers and their passion to pull this off,” Kang said. “I have admired the current generation of Brandeis students for fighting for what is right and for creating safe spaces to discuss such complex issues.”

Though they are graduating in May, the conference co-directors hope this year’s event is the first of many devoted to discussing diversity and inclusion.

“At first, we didn't know what we were signing up for, but we knew that this space was something necessary and important to create,” Anciro said. “It doesn't matter where in life we're coming from — it's the fact that we're coming together to talk about issues affecting us, to provide support for one another, and to truly be better leaders in our community. That is the heart of this conference and we hope it continues to move forward.”

Categories: Alumni, Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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