Diversity Day highlights history and importance of minority visibility

Photo courtesy of Paolo Miyashiro.

October is, among many things, both Queer and Trans History Month, and Disability Awareness Month. This year’s annual Diversity Day honored the beginning of both, as well as the continually growing diversity at Ramapo College.

Introduced by Chief Equity and Diversity Officer Nicole Morgan Agard, President Cindy Jebb made opening remarks about each being recognized. She spoke about how both highlight the accomplishments and contributions of their respective communities, as well as commemorating their histories.

Jebb shared a brief history of Disability Awareness Month and how it became officially recognized by Congress in 1988. 

“Before it was an official law, Ramapo College demonstrated a strong commitment to providing equal access to all students through the removal of architectural and attitudinal barriers since the college opened,” she said.

The same attention was given to Queer and Trans History Month, which was established in 1994. “In recognizing and celebrating Queer and Trans History Month,” Jebb said, “we hope to foster an inclusive, affirming and safe community.”

Prevention Education Coordinator Marie Attis introduced student leader Khalisah Hameed, a senior music major and minor in creative writing who is manager of the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Services, as well as leader of the Ramapo Women of Color Collective. Hameed read a spoken word piece titled “The Black Gaze.” 

“This piece is told from the lens of myself, a Black woman,” Hameed said, “but this piece is really dedicated to all people who feel like they are marginalized and working under a gaze and a structure that is one, against them, but two, suppressing the pride that they have, and their lineage — whether it be culturally, identity wise. We all lean on our ancestors in some capacity.”

“They may never understand the brin I share with the doves of God’s hands,” she read. “The very ones that ushered my lineage across burning seas, but please, understand that the rust of these chains will never tarnish my blood of its prosperity.”

The crowd was visibly moved by Hameed’s writing. Attis encouraged the audience to carry and reflect on the message with them when Diversity Day ends.

Attis spoke more about queer history, starting with the Stonewall riots of 1969. She also shared that the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ services are planning a variety of events this month including gatherings for National Coming Out Day. 

“It is both a jubilant communal celebration of visibility, and also a personal celebration of self-worth and dignity,” Attis said.

Associate Director of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Compliance Rachel Sawyer spoke more on Queer and Trans History Month, applying the lens of intersectionalities between race, queerness and disabilties.

“When I reflect on awareness months, especially as a queer Black woman, I’m always thinking about intersections of identities,” Sawyer said. “At the core of each awareness month, Black people are disproportionately affected in every single category.”

The recognition of individuals in all of these communities is an important distinction each year at Ramapo, as it lets all know that fighting marginalization is a constant priority. Events like Diversity Day are a reminder that every person at Ramapo has a valuable, unique identity, and embracing those differences makes the community here stronger.

"Here at Ramapo College, we recognize and celebrate diversity," Jebb said. "As such, Ramapo College works toward erasing misconceptions, bigotry and intolerance by heightening the awareness and understanding of all underrepresented communities’ lives and experiences."