Appreciating Diversity

by Carrie Lynn

Horizon Reporter

Being called the Ethnic Student Association can cause some confusion because the first impression is that this is only for international students.  While there are a lot of international students in the club it is actually for students of color and white student allies who are here on campus.

“By bringing together people of all ethnicities rather than focusing on one particular group, diversity is promoted,” Patricia Denga, an ESA member said.  “At ESA, blacks, whites, Asians, Europeans are all ethnic people and are welcome.  There are no restrictions to membership, all you need is an ethnicity, and this means everyone.”

The ESA was started by Whatcom Community College students in 2003 and is now being revitalized after a less active period said Krysta Walia, Whatcom’s multicultural academic support coordinator.  “We’re gaining momentum and were really excited,” Walia said.  “We want it to grow into something bigger than what it has been.”

The ESA meets every Friday and each meeting includes snacks, games and discussions about upcoming events.  “We start out the session by some cheesy fun game to get to know each other better and welcome in new people,” Walia said.

Discussion on topics of business such as upcoming events and activities that include community service, on-campus club-to-club collaboration, as well as learning about new cultures and identities, take up much of the ESA’s meeting time.  Walia says that this is not like another class, though.  “It’s all about meeting people and connecting with them,” she said.

The balance of the meetings are focused on finding leadership opportunities, developing yourself, involving and connecting, and building your resume.

“You get to meet people and have more friends,” said Walia. “The side bonus is that you make good friends, and who doesn’t want that?”

On April 14-16 the ESA attended a leadership conference in Yakima, Wash., called Students of Color Conference.  Through this conference they gained more knowledge in leadership and identity development and are now implementing what they have learned.

On May 12, eight ESA members went to the Skagit Valley Leadership conference.  Here they facilitated discussions around identity and culture with 120 middle school and high school students.

These eight ESA leaders shared their own poetry with the young students called “I am from” poems which demonstrated the quality of the individual.

Dawna Use, an ESA member, wrote, “I am a student, a freedom fighter, an equality protector, and wave rider,  I am eccentric and determined, I am me.”

At the recent Women of Color empowerment dinner at Western Washington University, the ESA participated along with Whatcom President Kathi Hiyane-Brown to celebrated the struggles and triumphs of women of color.

This was the first time Whatcom had an official table at this event and the first time President Kathi Hiyane-Brown attended.

All of the money going towards sponsoring a table at this dinner is for student scholarships.  “My hope for the future is that our students will get those scholarships,” Walia said.  “Those are my great big dreams and Whatcom is doing an amazing job of following their mission statement to support diversity.”

One of the core pieces to the ESA mission is cross-club collaboration and showing that this club is welcoming to all.  “We collaborate with the Queer/Straight Alliance, international clubs, as well as other student groups on campus, and we love doing that,” Walia said.

“I have been challenged and I am learning every single time I am there,” Walia said of her role.  “We have a growing membership that is changing every week.”

“It’s all about appreciating difference and learning about different perspectives,” Walia said.  “There are so many amazing experiences that we may not have had if we didn’t open our minds to something new and different.”

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