This past summer, while working for the Office of Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion, my mentor introduced me to the Second Annual Wellesley Community Diversity Summit. World of Wellesley started the event last year to engage the community in discussions on diversity and inclusion. The president of World of Wellesley, Michelle Chalmers, collaborated with other community organizations, including the Wellesley Police Department, the Council on Aging, and Babson College, to develop the event.
As a black working-class Wellesley College alumna who has lived in the town of Wellesley for four years, this event quickly caught my interest. The town is comprised of about 85% white individuals and boasts a median household income of $159,167. This racial and economic class demographic contrasts with the student body of Wellesley College as 50% of the student body receives financial aid. About 43% of Wellesley students identify as persons of color (i.e. Black, Latin@, Native American, Asian, Mixed Race). As a working black college student, you immediately feel out of place walking through the Ville- the strip of restaurants near the college. This displacement is at an all time high as you peruse luxury boutique shop windows only to find a sea of $200 price tags. Even attempts to buy necessities proved to be futile as the local CVS was arguably overpriced.
These tensions have exasperated, as the town of Wellesley has gained a reputation as a hostile place for students of color. As a student, I heard stories about my peers facing multiple microaggressions while walking through the Ville. A close friend of mine was called the N-word twice while another friend was called a terrorist for wearing her hijab.
For many students of color, the town of Wellesley remains an Ivory tower; so close yet, so far removed. As an alumna living in the town of Wellesley, my feelings (both past and current) of isolation have encouraged me to help World of Wellesley publicize its Diversity Summit through social media.
This past Saturday, I attended the Second Annual Wellesley Community Diversity Summit with about 70 other community members. Christopher McMullen from Class Action led the summit with the “Class Matters” Workshop on the history of socio-economic class in the U.S. and its effect on our identity. As a descendant of Cape Verdean immigrants, McMullen instructed the audience to trace their family history though their grandparents, demonstrating that one inherits class, a source of privilege and discrimination. During this workshop, I met Sayda Zelaya, the Coordinator of Media Training Programs at Women’s Media Center. We bonded over our immigrant heritage and the ways in which our backgrounds affect our perception of class as first-generation college graduates.
Afterwards, I attended a workshop on race by Katrina Fludd, Manager of the Multicultural Programs at Babson College. She introduced race as a contradicting social construct existing as both physically invisible to the human eye and socially unavoidable. During the workshop, a Mexican resident of Wellesley explained how the Wellesley Public School system interrogated her and her children concerning the legitimacy of their residency, projecting negative stereotypes of Mexicans as undocumented immigrants.
Lexy Halpen, the LGBTQ Youth Services Coordinator of OUT MetroWest, alongside Derek Terrell, Graduate Assistant for the Babson College Student Activities and Leadership Department, facilitated a workshop to introduce diversity of sexuality and gender within the LGBTQ community and further explore the concept of identity. Halpen presented the “Gender Unicorn” to explain the fluidity of gender and sexual identity and described the challenges, i.e. depression, self-injury, and bullying, disproportionately facing LGBTQ youth. Terrell allowed the group to think critically about their intersectional identities with an activity that involved listing each social dimensions of our identity on a tag label and considering the most influential aspects of our identity.
Attending the Diversity Summit made me feel like I belonged to the town of Wellesley for the first time in a very long time. However, one summit does not guarantee the feeling of safety in the town of Wellesley. As a working-class black woman, I still try to avoid microaggressions stemming from the negative stereotype that black people are threatening individuals. My defense mechanism is to dress professional to present myself as a respectable black person as I ride my bike through the ville. Nevertheless, an event like the Diversity Summit is a step in the right direction to helping students and residents of color feel welcomed to the town of Wellesley.
As the social media coordinator of the event, I created the hashtag #WOWDiversitySummit. Check out tweets from attendees of the event.