By Victoria Gladstone and Delaney Smith
The Intercultural Center hosted its first-ever spoken word competition entitled “My Voice, My Power” on Oct. 5. Seven student performers wrote poetry about their personal experiences.
The slam was centered around empowering each other as the poets took advantage of the spotlight by sharing their stories and sentiments.
Sophomore urban elementary education and African American studies major Ashuana Francis was a performer at the spoken word competition and was voted into the top four speakers of the night.
Francis said this was her first time publicly sharing her poetry. However, she has been writing since second grade and had a connection to spoken word poetry because her father is a performer as well. She further explained that this event was a great opportunity for her to make her own debut as a slam poetry performer.
“It has not been until more recently that I’ve actually shared my emotionally expressive writings with my parents and others close to me,” Francis said.
In her poem, Francis expressed her frustrations as a person of color living in the United States, and her work earned her first place for the competition.
“The piece I performed Tuesday night was one written in built-up frustration from a class I had felt last fall semester where I felt stifled, unheard and invalidated,” Francis said.
Francis said the events of 2020 involving the Black Lives Matter movement were eye-opening to her, and she became inspired about what she looks to change in the United States for the better. She talked about her mission as a future educator and how this ties into her recent performance at the slam.
“As a Bonner Scholar in the Youth Education department, one thing I hope to make an impact on in terms of educational equity is evoking curricular change so the full truth of history is taught in schools and children of color gain pride and a deep sense of identity,” Francis said.
The voting process was delegated to two faculty members: Dr. Benny Carson, the chemistry department chair, and Cecila Colbeth, the women and gender studies program coordinator. Along with this, the audience was able to vote on their top three favorite performances using their cell phones. Besides Francis, Ayesha Sultana, Vanessa Luc and Mo Gonzalez also placed in the top four.
In addition to the student performers, the event featured Rutgers University graduate and experienced slam poet Alyea Pierce as the guest speaker. She spoke about her constant battle with people mispronouncing her name and how others should take the time to ask for clarification rather than brush off that detail. She also performed a piece talking about the power of art.
“Art is who we are, so what will you leave on the stage?” Pierce said.
Her pieces were placed throughout the competition and modeled how an experienced poet performs their poetry.
This event was the Intercultural Center’s debut as an organization, which is located on the second floor of Roscoe West Hall. Jordan Shyi, the director for Intercultural Affairs at the College, said this event was an important beginning to the Intercultural Center because of the unique relationship between art and expression. She also said this event set a positive precedent for future events.
“We really want to be able to help students understand the best way they can enact and express the changes that they want to see happen both within their own lives as well as within the communities that they have to navigate,” Shyi said.
The Intercultural Center, he said, will be an important safe space for students to express their identities and learn about different people. Beyond artistic purposes, it will serve as a hub for all kinds of people. Shyi sees the Intercultural Center working with already existing student organizations to continue their mission of creating an inclusive campus environment as well as creating other experiences like workshops and initiatives to improve student life for all people on campus, regardless of their cultural background.“I think there’s something comforting and disarming about being in a center that feels like it’s home,” Shyi said. “That's really the goal. To be able to create this space to be a home to a lot of our students that might otherwise find some challenges in seeing themselves reflected in other spaces that they have to navigate.”
Shyi said the College has taken numerous positive steps forward in achieving a diverse, welcoming community, but believes that the Intercultural Center will be an important step toward achieving long-term inclusivity and a welcoming environment on campus for all sorts of people.
“In hearing the feedback from some of those in the audience, it seems like a lot of them really looked forward to the event and met a lot of folks’ expectations,” Shyi said. “It seems as though events like this are well-received on campus because it gives everyone a creative outlet and you get to experience a lot of the talent firsthand.”
Shyi said he wished to thank all of the performers who came out to the event and to all of the people who attended the event, as he believes that it was an all-around successful event and marks a promising future for the Intercultural Center.
“We’re a new space, a new entity, so a lot of folks took a gamble spending their night with this thing I don’t know a lot about,” Shyi said. “So we’re really grateful for that.”
The Intercultural Center’s Instagram @tcnj_ica can be referred to for more information on events, updates and more.