Exploring Identity through Diversity Day

Diversity – as represented by all the people who comprise the Middlesex community – is infused throughout everyday life on campus and in every classroom, team, dorm, and activity. But once a year, the School purposefully celebrates Diversity Day to take a step back and recognize the unique attributes and stories of each individual within this small community – and to think deliberately about the idea of identity and what shapes each individual.

This year, Diversity Day events extended over the course of several days. They began with a Tuesday Assembly talk by human rights advocate Jenni Wolfson, the managing director of WITNESS. Her address highlighted the basic needs and dreams shared by all of humanity, regardless of race, gender, or geographical location.

On Friday evening, the community heard from three Middlesex students who shared their own experiences volunteering in South Africa and India last summer. Having spent time in places vastly different from their homes, they spoke about how connecting with people in another part of the world enlarged their understanding and changed their perceptions of others – and themselves.

Diversity Day continued the next morning with an opening address by the Reverend Joseph P. Watkins ’71, a nationally known political analyst and pastor, who was among the first African-American students to attend Middlesex. Reminding students of the famous Bible lesson, “To whom much is given, much will be required,” Joe added, “If you have an education like this, you are not meant to be a casual bystander.” He urged students to use their talents and education to address problems and injustices, not simply lament them. Joe returned to campus with a number of Middlesex alumni, all of whom were invited to attend Diversity Day for the first time.

Students and faculty then spent the next hour in discussion groups, where – in pairs and larger clusters – they swapped life stories and significant experiences, trying to tease out what qualities and influences define one’s “identity.”

The exercise of focusing on experiences that involved being an outsider, whether near home or far away, proved to be a great lead-in to the day’s centerpiece: the performance of the play RASH by its author (and Tuesday’s speaker), Jenni Wolfson. By turns frightening, moving, and humorous, Ms. Wolfson’s work ingeniously conveyed what it was like for her to work as a UN human rights observer in Rwanda soon after the country’s 1994 genocide.

In answering questions after her performance, Ms. Wolfson echoed Joe Watkins’ message from a few hours earlier. “You have a responsibility to know what is going on the world,” she said. “One day, you may be in a position of influence or power; use it wisely, take risks, and listen to your gut.”

Music and dance are always popular highlights of Diversity Day, and this year’s events concluded with a beautiful, expert performance by Anita ’13 and Nikita ’13 of an Indian style of dance called Kuchipudi. Thanks to the quality and variety of speakers, discussions, and performances coordinated by Acting Dean of Students and Director of Diversity Brian Smith, the Middlesex community was given a great deal to reflect on after the 2012 program.

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