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Unity Wing block party introduces 3 ‘Identity Centers’

Published on September 14, 2022

Unity Wing block party introduces 3 ‘Identity Centers’

Pride Center

Unity Wing coordinators, left to right: Nicole Potestivo, Josh Sumrell and Starsheemar Byrum

On Sept. 9, Eastern Connecticut State University students and faculty convened on the first floor of the Student Center to familiarize themselves with the values and resources available in the Arthur L. Johnson Unity Wing. 

The Pride, Intercultural and Women’s Centers all worked in accordance to bring awareness to numerous societal issues afflicting campus and the world, while motivating students to assist in their advocacy of social justice. During the four-hour event, students were encouraged to immerse themselves within the Unity Wing’s inclusive atmosphere, while exploring a variety of activities, exercises, cuisine and culturally diverse music. 

“Our programs and events are intended to display a realistic avenue to accomplish justice and equity for all,” said Starsheemar Byrum, director of the Women’s Center, and a victim advocate for Eastern’s Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Response (SAIVR) team. “However, we understand that this takes time. It requires us to develop programs where students are going to learn about prevalent issues, while their perspectives on race, gender and culture are going to be challenged and fundamentally changed.”

The Women’s Center, located within room 116, is actively attempting to foster a community that values the rights, opinions and equality of women. Much like other Unity Wing centers, members of the Women’s Center hope to advance inclusivity, diversity and equity across the school’s student population.

While the Women’s Center’s primary responsibility and motivating purpose is to affirm and honor the experiences of women, they also wish to create a family-oriented bond between the students and their staff.

“Within the Women’s Center, as well as each of our respective spaces, we focus on instilling a sense of connection and togetherness within the student body,” said Byrum. “Something beautiful about the Unity Wing is that we have a familial-centered approach, where we can formulate our own tight-knit community to accomplish our goals of civil progression, acceptance and equity.”

Nicole Potestivo, coordinator of the Pride Center, reiterated the importance of establishing a haven for an interconnected society of students. The coordinator extended an invitation to Eastern students of any sexual preference and gender identity who are eager to investigate the benefits of self-expression and gender fluidity. 

“At the Pride Center, we aim to create a shared space that supports and celebrates diverse gender expressions, sexualities and identities – those ideals have always served as our core principles,” said Potestivo. “This year, we are intentionally focusing on providing resources like make-up so students can experiment with their gender expression in an environment where they feel comfortable and accepted for who they are.”

Joshua Sumrell, coordinator of the Intercultural Center, also challenged students to step outside of their comfort zone. He urges open-minded students to reevaluate their own set of attitudes and beliefs, in hopes that their acceptance of diversity, equity and inclusion can spur the onset of civil/social justice for individuals of all ethnicities, races and cultural backgrounds.

“Especially after Covid, I am really looking forward to seeing everyone interacting with each other, engaging with each other, and learning from each other. This block party was just another way to encourage that engagement, fun and excitement, so we can all remember who we truly are as people,” said Sumrell.

The Intercultural Center supports students' desires to not only interact and socialize with one another, but to incite an open discourse of discussion about any social issues that are plaguing their minds — not just race and culture. Their main objective is to dispel the ills of racism, inequality and injustice on the forefront of Eastern, while simultaneously allowing students to openly debate relevant issues on these topics.

“I know that we all have differences, but we want students to come together, set their discrepancies aside, and attempt to learn, grow and develop based on each other's perceptions and morals. We are always seeking a positive change, and it starts with the students,” said Sumrell.

Despite the invaluable services that the three “Identity Centers” provide for their students, many Warriors are unaware that these support systems exist on campus. “I don’t think enough students know about these types of events. I mean the Unity Wing feels hidden in this tiny corner that is rarely advertised to us,” said Sophomore attendee Christian Deres. “However, they did an amazing job of bringing attention to their services, as well as their key beliefs, by having such interesting activities, fun people and great music for new students to check out.”

Each Identity Center provided a unique assortment of food, games and music to entertain guests for the entirety of the four-hour event. The Women’s Center allowed students to make jewelry, while the Pride Center gave individuals the opportunity to display their creativity with a plethora of coloring books. Meanwhile, the Intercultural Center provided the musical stylings of professional Caribbean percussionists, who entertained students in the Student Center Cafe.

“Forget the music, the games and the food,” said Lauryn Christie, a senior Communication major. “These events are catered entirely for the students. It allows them to meet new people and see what they have available to us on campus. New friends that you meet can lend you different insights into the world around us... I think an event like this does the same thing!”  

Potestivo agrees wholeheartedly with Lauryn’s notion. “The most critical thing for all of us is to listen to the students. I could not emphasize enough the sheer importance of simply hearing their voices, opinions, concerns and questions,” said the Pride Center coordinator. “Without their input, we would not be able to help students in the capacity that we do today. I think that the students' involvement will allow initiative to grow out of the Pride Center, and all of the other Identity Centers on campus too.”

Written by Jack Jones