Harmony Week builds bridges across campus

Last April, a committee of students, faculty and staff began planning a series of October events in attempt to make this year's Cultural Harmony Week more fun, creative and engaging than ever before.

Fatima Johnson, who has been the coordinator of multicultural programs for the past year, spearheaded the endeavor, coordinating activities, supplementing resources and funneling information as it built up.

"People have really embraced this Cultural Harmony Week," Johnson said. "It really has a life of its own, and everybody's putting their mark on it."

While the original inception of Cultural Harmony Week focused on race, ethnicity and culture, it has evolved over eight years to cover all aspects of diversity.

Since last spring, the cohesive dedication of all involved, from individuals like professors Maria Lima and Elaine Cleeton, to larger groups like Activities Commission and Residence Life have given this week the prominence they feel it deserves.

Senior Charlie Elliot joined the committee this semester and works as Johnson's assistant in the Center for Community. "I definitely think that diversity needs to be expanded on this campus," he said, "and a big part of diversity is bringing people together. Hopefully that's something this week will do."

The week started on Saturday with Culture Fest, "a celebration of Geneseo's diversity and community." The organization expo featured multicultural groups on campus from noon until 2 p.m., after which four hours of Culture Fest workshops continued to set Cultural Harmony Week off on the right foot. "Sunlight and Shadows of Haiti" also opened at noon with a reception in the Kinetic gallery. The exhibit, which will be open throughout Cultural Harmony Week, displays the transcendental art of Haitian culture.

Throughout the week, the Human Race Machine has been open for anyone to literally see themselves in a different way. After entering the booth, which stands in the Union lobby 11 a.m.-5 p.m., and indicating a few facial features for the computer, the machine transforms a person's image to approximate how that individual would look in different races. This approximation may be less than realistic, but what the machine lacks in technology it makes up for in message: There is no gene for race, despite the perceived differences that society constructs.

This message, embedded in the overall theme of "building bridges, stand up and reach out," has followed through the week in performances, lectures, exhibits and workshops. Monday featured a lecture by civil rights activist Ronald Freeman, and later in the evening, professor Victoria Farmer introduced and answered questions about the film Salaam Bombay, which portrays the plight of children in the streets of Mumbai.

Tuesday, Oct. 23 featured poet Lenelle Moise in an afternoon workshop titled "Spoken Word, Self-Naming & Resistance" and an evening performance "Womb-words, Thirsting," both of which expressed her feelings about race, class and gender. On Wednesday, Oct. 24, Hillel sponsored the Oxfam Hunger Banquet and NAACP National Board Chairman Julian Bond presented this year's Wadsworth Lecture.

Those who have yet to attend an event can still look forward to the final three days of Cultural Harmony Week, featuring the films Darfur Diaries on Thursday and Ghosts of Cite Soleil on Friday, both at 5 p.m. in Newton 214. The week will commence where it started, in the Ballroom on Saturday with the Intercultural Dinner at 7 p.m.

All these contributions of Cultural Harmony Week have engaged the efforts of students, faculty and staff in a span of departments and organizations. According to Johnson, "Every aspect of the college campus can contribute, so it becomes part of the fabric of the institution." In the same way, the spirit of the week is aligned with the recent activism of student group Fighting Against Racial Injustice, among other groups and individuals struggling for progress in diversity at Geneseo. "We really put some resources behind the visibility of what we're about as a campus community," Johnson said, "and it really builds on everything else we're trying to do."

On behalf of everyone involved, Johnson hopes that everyone will engage in at least a few of the week's events with an open mind and come out of them with new perspectives.

"It's an opportunity to challenge a different part of yourself," she said. And if enough people "take that leap," Johnson believes that Cultural Harmony Week will move Geneseo that much closer to building bridges and facilitating diversity in the college community.