First Cultivating Community series addresses activism’s future within the Geneseo community

Cultivating Community (pictured above at Feb. 4, 2019 dialogue) returned for its first event of the semester on Sept. 9. The audience discussed what it means to be an activist and how activism fits into the culture at Geneseo (Courtesy of Josie Kawan).

The Cultivating Community series held its first of three dialogues this semester on Monday Sept. 9, discussing “How to Propel Activism Forward” with a crowd of more than 50 students, professors and administrators. The series is grounded in Geneseo’s value of inclusivity, meant to provide a safe, supportive space for the campus community to work through issues that come up for the student body. 

Monday’s dialogue, about moving activism forward, began with a panel made up of both student and faculty activists. Sociology major seniors Morgan Hernandez and Nikko Garmendiz, math major junior Neo Nxumalo and dean for academic planning and advising Celia Easton answered questions about why they themselves became activists, what qualities activists should possess and what does activism propel us toward. 

Activism became integral to the lives of Hernandez, Garmendiz and Nxumalo last spring after an incident involving blackface was reported at Geneseo. All three students joined Activists Fighting Racial Oppression and realized they were no longer content sitting back on issues that had a direct impact on their lives.

“I was tired of hearing about so many bad things happening. I was mad, it made me pissed,” Hernandez said. He decided to put himself out there as an activist thinking that there are people out there who could connect with what he’s going through but may not be willing to speak up. 

Garmendiz and Nxumalo echoed the same ideas, acknowledging that last spring’s events encouraged them to become leaders in the call for change on campus. 

Easton stressed that the first thing anyone hoping to become an activist should do is identify their values. Once they know what they’re fighting for, other pieces will begin to fall in place. 

After the panelists gave their insight into what activism means and its purpose, the audience split into small groups for deeper discussion. To guide these smaller sessions, each person received a list of possible discussions that built upon the foundation set by the panelists. Questions included: are there any potential barriers to activism, what is the relationship between activism and dialogue and what makes you hopeful that progress is occurring?

The small group discussions gave way to a large, audience-wide conversation where each table shared what their members had come up with in terms of the lessons they had learned from the event. 

The style of these dialogues is meant to provide participants the opportunity to share their personal experiences with the topic and learn from the experiences of others. The series’ goal is to emulate the atmosphere created in the dialogues—open, inclusive, nonjudgmental—in the Geneseo community and to continue the conversations even after the dialogue events are over.

“I want people to feel they have the support,” Hernandez said. “I want future generations to feel like they can do it, like they can be activists, like they can do it better.” 

The next Cultivating Community dialogue is Oct. 21 at 2:30 p.m. in the Union Ballroom.