From Friday March 17 to Saturday March 25, Swarthmore College will be hosting various events as part of Culture and Identity Appreciation (CIA) Week, which aims to both celebrate the diverse cultures of students at Swarthmore and highlight the various issues that are pertinent to these communities. Neatly outlined in their advertisement poster, the week-long series of events has been in the process of being organized since early Fall Semester 2016. According to Dakota Gibbs ‘19, Josephine Hung ‘19 was the “ringleader” of the creation process and was at the forefront in bringing this from concept to campus.
Tracing its creation back to its very roots, the origin of CIA Week is found in a conversation between Hung and Shivani Gupta ‘20, when Gupta brought up the International Weekend that was held in her high school. Similar to what is offered by CIA Week, International Weekend offered both faculty and students opportunities to take over classrooms to teach about their cultures. Thinking about her own Swarthmore community, she said “I realized that something like the Night Market [during Ride the Tide], it seems like in the previous times, it’s always been for specs and not for students on campus. I was like, ‘We need to do that!’
Yet, at that point, there was still the need to get the ball rolling and months of planning ahead of Hung before CIA Week formed into what it is today. Not knowing where to start, Hung talked to Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center (IC) Mo Lotif. “I brought this idea up to him. Actually, he brought up a lot of valuable points like ‘This is going to be very tiring,’ ‘People are gonna be exhausted,’ and ‘We could do these as separate events through the year rather than a themed week. So, I got pretty discouraged after that conversation. I was about to drop it. But I was willing to do it as long as other people were willing to do it,” said Hung.
After also reaching out to the Director of the IC and Dean of Sophomore Class Dean Rivera, who told her it was possible to do and supplied her with a list of resources, Hung met with Assistant Director of Student Life Andrew Barclay. “He became super helpful in this whole process. He’s been our primary supporter. I recently met with him again and we were saying, ‘Oh, it’s so cool how the very first time, you just came out with this big idea of how to start it, and now we have a whole series of events.’”
Sharing the same excitement that Hung spoke with, Barclay said in an email, “Culture and Identity Appreciation Week involved collaboration between i20, BCC, IC, Interfaith, SGO and 20 different student groups! It was really incredible to watch so many groups and offices contribute to a great week of events.”
With an idea of which groups would be participating, the first meeting finally occurred in Sharples in mid Fall and since then, while some groups dropped off and others joined, bi-weekly meetings led to the CIA Week that it is today. One small change that occurred was in the name of the event. At the very beginning of the process, Hung thought that the series of events would be called “Cultural Week.” But when Hung reached out to the various student groups, some believed that this didn’t fall under the work that they did. In an effort to include more student groups in this project, the name was eventually changed to “Culture and Identity Appreciation Week.” The duration of the series of events was debated too, ultimately resulting in a decision to start it on one weekend and end it the next.
In addition to this, not only were some student groups wary of joining when the plan was still unclear, but there was concern over the purpose of CIA Week.
“I really acknowledge that too because, especially with Kohlchella, when you’re putting yourself on display, I don’t want it to be fetishization or exotification,” Gupta said. “That was something I was really worried about at first. I brought this up with the other events as well. Who is this for? Who are we including? And other things as well. I think we came to the conclusion that it was really up to each group to be responsible for it.”
Co-President of ENLACE Jennifer Beltrán ‘18 also shared similar thoughts about the process. “I liked the flexibility behind it. As a group, we were never told, ‘Oh, you have to do this.’ It was like, ‘We’re giving you a classroom. Literally do whatever you want with it.’ They gave groups so much flexibility and just a lot of freedom to do whatever we wanted. They were never on our backs about it. They just trusted that the groups who were participating in it would be accountable.”
When asked about what drove her to do this, Hung said, “Actually, the main reason why I really wanted to do this series is because I realized that […] oftentimes affinity groups don’t often talk to each other. We have really relevant issues that can often intersect but we don’t really bring this conversation together. Or if we host an event, people outside of that identity group don’t feel comfortable going to it.”
For Gibbs, who also shares the same desire to see more collaboration between student groups on campus, he has hope that CIA week can be a beginning for this type of work. “Looking forward, this week may only be one week, but we can’t let it end here. It shouldn’t end here. And, this is supposed to be, as much as it is a movement, it is a kickstarter to start conversation, to get people motivated, to get people excited to do these events and create what ultimately will become an enriched community here at Swarthmore.” He hopes that this also increases the presence of student groups on campus.
With various sources of funding such as academic departments and the OSE, as well as an approximate $3000 contribution from SGO, CIA Week was able to come together. Looking towards next year and having to figure out funding, Hung wonders whether this can be something as sustainable as Swarthmore’s cultural heritage months. In response to a question about its future, Barclay says in an email, “I think that will depend on student energy and interest next year. OSE will always be here to help students turn their ideas into great events.” But for now, Hung hopes that Cultural and Identity Appreciation Week continues to act as a building block for future conversations and as not only a series of events but a way for groups to connect with each other. Whether it will happen again next year currently rides on whether the proposal for next year’s Community Grant is granted for this project.
Featured image courtesy of Brandon Torres ’18.