Cultural Harmony Week brings diverse events

Geneseo's 11th annual celebration of Cultural Harmony Week began this past Sunday and concluded Thursday; the program features a series of events that aim to raise awareness about civic responsibility and engagement. Each year, Cultural Harmony week explores a new theme. Fatima Johnson, coordinator of multicultural programs, said that this year's week of events, titled "Power within, power without," asks the campus community to "think about what motivates us to be socially and civically engaged."

According to Johnson, students become civically engaged for different reasons. Some are drawn to a cause "because it touches them personally," others "because it's a good way to build a resumé" and some simply "want to leave the world better than the way they found it."

Johnson said that she hopes students can "find something every year within the theme that they feel they can commit to." The themes of Cultural Harmony week, she said, "apply to life after college. They're themes that students can carry on and that can support the person they want to be after they graduate."

Cultural Harmony Week began on Sunday with the annual Intercultural Dinner, an event featuring food and performances prepared by several multicultural and diversity-focused student organizations on campus.

Monday's highlights were presentations by Jan McDonald, executive director of Rochester Roots, a non-profit committed to community health, and Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, a volunteer group that brings food and water to migrants living near the United States-Mexico border.

Tuesday featured a panel program titled "Best Intentions: Lifelong Consequences" which explored social and civic responsibility.

The keynote speaker, Eli Clare, presented a lecture titled "Gaping, gawking, and staring - Living in Marked Bodies," on Wednesday. Clare is an anti-ableism activist and has written two books. Throughout his presentation he shared with the audience his experience as a person who is disabled and genderqueer.

Clare's lecture considered the identity of the human body, warning that societal factors can oppress individuals' bodies to the point that they no longer feel they have ownership of them. He said that the media's presentation of bodies as objects of ridicule, objects to be cured, objects to be sensationalized and the embodiment of stereotypes alters our perceptions of what the body is.

Bodies can be reclaimed through celebration, resistance of stereotypes and by treating them as artistic rather than medical subjects, said Clare, who invited the audience to share how their bodies have been stolen or reclaimed by society.

Clare discussed the importance of age-appropriate education regarding diversity in bodies, citing his own history of being bullied. "Classrooms need to be bullying-free in order to have these conversations about bodily differences," he said.

Humans are naturally adept at creating categories to better understand the world, said Clare, but he added that there is too much diversity in body type to be able to categorize everything and everyone.

Clare also encouraged those questioning themselves and feeling suppressed to seek community. "Find people to talk to. Find community, find some political framework in the people around you - that's going to help," he said.

"[The lecture] was very informative and gave me insight on several horrors in our culture placed on unique people," said senior Ingamar Ramirez.

Cultural Harmony week concludes Thursday, Oct. 28 with an opening reception for an El Sauce, Nicaragua photography exhibit in Lederer Gallery and a showing of El Camino de Santiago.

Cultural Harmony week was organized by a planning committee of faculty, staff and students who began meeting in March of last year.