Johannes Malebana, a business major from South Africa, recently attended the 22nd Annual Ethnic Student Conference at Western Washington University (WWU) on October 19-21, 2012 .Together with fellow NWCCI student Evashini Munsami, Johannes was one of 11 students representing Whatcom Community College through the Ethnic Student Association.
I think English scholars should come up with a word to describe the weekend of October 20th and 21st. Evashini Munsami, aka E.V, and I had the opportunity to join nine other Whatcom Community College Students from the Ethnic Student Association for this year’s 22nd Ethnic Student Center conference, and it was out of this world. The Ethnic Student Center (ESC) is a student-ran organization within the Associated Students of Western Washington University (WWU). The ESC supports historically underrepresented ethnic students and allies by providing a social atmosphere and inclusive environment where students engage in identity exploration and strive for cultural awareness and academic excellence.
The weekend started on October 19th at WWU with a cool ice breaker where we came up with the ESC chant and from there, everyone was on a high and full of energy. On Saturday morning, we went down to Casey Conference Center on Whidbey Island. Everyone had to attend two workshops. I choose Where I Am From & Where I am Going and Exploiting Stereotypes. Both workshops were educational as we spoke about real issues that we face every day. We did a reflection activity to explore who we are, where we come from, and where we want to go. We talked about how it feels to be a foreigner in a country like the USA and for the first time I felt understood because I was talking to people who felt the same way I did.
We spoke about how stereotyping shapes our lives and watched a video of Chimamanda Adichie, a young female author from Nigeria talking about her personal life and her book, The Dangers of a Single Story. The single story she’s referring to in her book are the inferences we make up about places and people based on their skin color, gender and stories reported on the media. She gave an example of a story her mother once told her about Fide’s family. Fide was a domestic helper at Adichie’s home. According to her mother, Fide came from a very poor family and Adichie felt pity for him. One day she went to Fide’s village and was shown a beautifully crafted basked made from dyed raffia that Fide’s brother had made. She could not believe how beautiful the basket was. The only thing Adichie knew about their house boy was that his family was poor and never thought that they could make anything. Fide’s poverty was her single story about them. This doesn’t mean that the single story does not have any truth in it, but it’s not all it is.
This is what my partner in crime, E.V, had to say about the conference “The conference was not at all what I expected it to be. I expected to learn about social justice and leadership but ended up leaving with inspiration for my emotional well-being as well as knowledge on these topics. I also met so many amazing people and shared bonds with strangers – something I never thought possible. It definitely was an opportunity of a lifetime.”
The part that stood out for me during the conference was culture sharing and it appeared to be everyone’s favorite. This is where people share their cultural stories, music, outfits, dance, and everything that they feel tells a story about who they are and where they come from. Yours truly went up the stage and read a poem and everyone was moved. I write poems in my own secret world and I recently wrote a poem called “Words make no sense”, which I decided to share at the conference. Almost everyone came up to me and told me that my spoken word was incredible and that I’m good writer. I’ve been in the US for two months now and that’s how long it took for inspiration to hit, and when it did, I wrote my heart out.