As part of the LSA Honors Program’s second annual Diversity Monologues, students gathered in South Quad’s Java Blue Cafe on Tuesday evening for open-mic style performances based on the theme, “This I Believe.”
The Monologue series aims to facilitate conversation about identity and diversity through open-mic events. The theme was inspired by a National Public Radio program of the same name. Clips from the NPR program were played to bookend the performances.
LSA senior Harleen Kaur, a Diversity Monologues co-founder and event organizer, said she and others came up with the idea for Diversity Monologues during the peak of social activism movements on campus last year, such as #BBUM and #UMDivest.
“We were talking about how to bring these conversations of identity and diversity to Honors in a very safe space and a creative space that would be very supportive for those who are choosing to share their experiences,” Kaur said.
Organizers said the theme of Tuesday’s event was purposefully vague to cast a wide net for anyone seeking to explore the broad concept of belief.
LSA senior Essie Shachar-Hill, a co-organizer of the event, said they did not want to limit performances to established faiths and religions.
“Originally we were thinking something along the lines of faith and religion,” Shachar-Hill said. “We wanted to be inclusive of people who don’t necessarily have a faith or religion.”
She said she thinks the way organizers framed the theme was effective in achieving the original goal of the Diversity Monologues.
“There was a really good variety of viewpoints,” Shachar-Hill said. “It’s called the Diversity Monologues so it’s always great when we have diverse points of view.”
The nine performers employed a variety of styles. Several shared personal narratives about how their upbringings and personal experiences shaped their identities, and some read and performed pieces of other literary modes.
Engineering junior Ahmad Sakallah said his performance was a mix of a ballad and a poem. He said the event provided him a platform to express his beliefs about diversity.
“This school is kind of ‘token diversity’ at this point and I really want more unity,” Sakallah said. “I’m trying to spread awareness without making people upset.”
He said his performance was based on personal experience living in America as a Palestinian-American and frustration with the difficulties of achieving true tolerance.
“When I say, ‘talk about that they hate that they fake,’ you know, my Palestinian heritage, everyone that I know is Palestinian says Jewish people are lying and all my Jewish friends say Palestinians are lying,” Sakallah said. “I’m just caught in the middle.”
LSA senior Leela Denver read a poem she wrote called “Summer in Phulgaon.” She said the poem explored her identity through her relationship with her mother and her ties to India, where her mother was raised.
“I grew up in a mixed race household, so it wasn’t just Indian, although that was the prominent culture in my household,” she said. “I definitely feel like that completely changed my experience as an American.”
Kaur said the next Diversity Monologues event will be held April 1, and the theme will relate to gender and sexual orientation.