Keynote speaker offers a powerful message at Diversity Convocation

Photo by Danielle DeAngelis

Ramapo College’s 14th annual Diversity Convocation took place in the Berrie Center’s Sharp Theater on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The keynote speaker for the event was Alok Vaid-Menon, an internationally acclaimed non-binary writer, performance artist and public speaker.

To kick off the event, opening remarks were given by Ramapo’s Chief Diversity Officer, Nicole Morgan Agard. While President Mercer was not in attendance, Agard acknowledged the board members who were present as well as the president’s cabinet members, deans and the Office of Equity and Diversity staff. Agard also addressed the importance of this event being held in February, as it is Black History Month. 

“I encourage everyone to engage in dialogue with others that are different from you,” Agard said. “Research and studies have demonstrated that we tend to learn more from those that are different than us than those who are similar to us.”

After Agard’s introduction, Student Trustee Mariella Zijdel introduced the keynote speaker. 

Alok Vaid-Menon took the stage, and instantly they utilized the loop machine connected to the microphone front and center. Sounds of wind that they created erupted through the speakers, and they started to purposefully use their spotlight.

“I want to begin with a moment of silence for all of the trans people that died from suicide,” Vaid-Menon said. “I want to begin with a moment of silence for the heroes we never had.”

As the theater remained quiet, Vaid-Menon started incorporating comedic appeal into their poem in order to transition to the most notable part of their presentation: their satirical speech.

In this speech, Vaid-Menon used irony and satire in their favor in order to note “the struggle of cis-heterosexual people.”

Referring to this opposite state of reality, Vaid-Menon said, “I learned that I was the cause for white supremacy.”

Alok Vaid-Menon jumped back and forth from statements that had the audience reacting with snaps or laughs. They mentioned the problems with white feminism and used Scarlett Johansson as a prime example.

At the beginning of this segment, Vaid-Menon starts by saying, “Scarlett Johansson told me, ‘The origin of feminism is white rich cis-heterosexual women.’” This only caused the crowd to break out in laughter. 

However, Vaid-Menon did an excellent job with connecting each piece of comedy they presented to a more pronounced message.

“Allyship is not about saying ‘I’m listening,’” Vaid-Menon said. “It’s about saying ‘here’s my spot.’”

Alok Vaid-Menon made use of all of their talents in their presentation, from poetry reciting to singing to comedy. While this may seem like too much from an outside perspective, everything in their presentation blended, and the transitions between each segment were seamless.

Vaid-Menon ended their presentation by saying, “Cis people see us and fear us because we are free… You will only be free when people like me are.”

There was a planned Q&A section, yet no questions were asked. Mariella Zijdel then presented Vaid-Menon with a gift on behalf of the college. Following this, Associate Director Tamika Quick made closing remarks.

“I’m reminded that everything good that comes to this college comes from all of you,” Quick said. “The responsibility of creating an inclusive, diverse campus is all of our jobs.”

As the audience left the theater, news reports that announced Trump’s travel bans played on the speakers, leaving the audience in thought.