Step Up to Speak Out

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By Gabe Sturges

Within the continuously changing landscape of the United States, the topic of diversity and consequently, of acceptance, has never been more pertinent.

As a cultural mosaic incorporating myriad religions and ethnicities, ignorance toward others within the U.S. is inevitable, even within the considerably liberal confines of Union College.

Noticing the prevalence of such closed minded rhetoric, Union recently played host to the first annual Speak-Out, an event sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, Black Student Union, MGC, Círculo Estudiantil Latino Americano, Iris House, Hillel and Alpha Epilson Pi.

Speak Out was organized to directly confront xenophobic attitudes, drawing attention to racial, sexual and religious intolerance experienced on our campus. Though the concept is by no means new, Elon ‘EG’ Gaffin-Cahn ‘12 and Mark Chaskes ‘12 felt there was need for a similar program at Union College.

Last spring, the duo devised the rudimentary framework for the program and promptly contacted members of the aforementioned groups during the summer.

According to Chaskes, “Speak-Outs generally have very poor long term impact. In order to make sure that this issue isn’t forgotten in the coming weeks, EG and I decided to try and implement a long term program to rid our campus of intolerance. To do this, we came up with the ‘Champions program.’ At our event, interested students signed up to join this program. The idea of this program is that interested students will be trained by Gretchel Hathaway’s office in order to speak up against intolerance when they hear it, each and every day. By having a two-tiered program, we hope to raise awareness of the issue [through the Speak-Out] and continue to improve the culture of our campus for the future [through the champions program].”

Compared to many college educational programs, led by a hired speaker or knowledgeable faculty member, the Speak-Out offered a unique approach in its structure: the student acted as the host, volunteering personal memories and realizations experienced in an often-times intolerant society.

“The audience was the speaker,” said Jahveed Shirzad ‘15. “The event was ideal for allowing people to share their experiences as everyone showed comforting respect towards one another.”

While from the audience’s perspective an event may seem successful, its efficacy only extends as far as the general consensus—in this case, the student body. Perhaps most telling, then, is an experience of Chaskes himself, in the days following the “Speak-Out.”

“That night at Geppetto’s, someone I had never met before approached me who was at the event,” he said. “She told me how great the event was and just came over to thank me and the others for planning it. If one student became more aware of what is going on, not only on this campus but everywhere, then the effort to put on the event was worthwhile.”

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