By Mariah Solis
Catholic University’s Center for Cultural Engagement (CCE) brought students together in fellowship to reflect on their personal identity, belonging, and purpose by hosting Cultural Day on Saturday, September 4th, at the Przybyla University Center.
Around 77 students and faculty registered for the event and were encouraged to dress in clothing representing their culture. The event featured engaging speakers, facilitated deep discussions, hosted activities, and shared traditional ethnic food as a community.
Counseling Center Staff Psychologist Dr. Rekha Varghese kicked off the main discussion with her presentation about labels and how they impact a person’s identity. She described how a label can be a positive description, and the ways it can create a sense of belonging amongst others with the same label. When a label is placed on a person based on assumptions or stereotypes, however, it results in a very different outcome.
“Labels can also be extremely divisive, so if somebody’s putting a label on you that you don’t agree with, that can create distance from one another,” Varghese explained.
Guests were placed in small groups to discuss the positive and negative labels used to describe themselves and how it affected them.
“Labels can be something that brings you together or pushes you apart, and it’s honestly on us to sit down and really connect as people,” Varghese emphasized.
Senior psychology and brain sciences major Kelly Woodson continued the day with her powerful talk on belonging, sharing her journey as a student on campus. She spoke about how college is who you surround yourself with, and encouraged students to join Black Student Alliance and other campus organizations, emphasizing that Catholic University has a community for everyone. Following this presentation, guests reflected on the ways that knowing yourself and others on a deeper level creates a sense of belonging.
Next was a panel to give advice to current students and allow everyone to listen to personal stories and experiences students of various ethnicities, races, and backgrounds have had on campus.
“There’s a lot of hidden diversity on campus. I feel like we need to be more inclusive, spread the love, make sure there is a place for everyone on campus, and help students figure out their identity and find a place where they belong,” senior sociology major Alexia Camacho later commented.
Director of CCE Javier Bustamente emphasized at the end of the panel how each person should leave wanting to make sure other students feel understood and know that they have a place here at Catholic University.
The final topic of the day was about discovering purpose and how it related to identity and belonging. The presentation was delivered by Dr. Kenyse Lyons, who gave an inspiring speech from her perspective as a former student and now current professor of Modern Languages and Literature.
“I just came here with an open mind ready to hear people’s experiences, because although most of us are people of color, that doesn’t mean we all went through the same thing. Just having an open heart and open ears to hear different experiences and how they impacted people, that’s what I did to prepare for today. That’s what I think everyone should do,” sophomore computer science major Samuel Nwuha shared.
Outside of the key presentations, the day was spent doing crafts, listening to music, eating delicious food, and playing games.
Carmen Saca, head student coordinator of the event, commented, “I enjoyed seeing everyone really talk and interact with each other, especially because a lot of people didn’t know each other prior to being put into each other’s table groups. I feel like people definitely made new friends today.”
Cultural Day concluded with a feast of foods from various cultures, and the room was filled with laughter, chatter, and community.
Freshman psychology major Fernando Hernandez-Reyes said, “There are so many different cultural groups in this school, and it has been so welcoming and helpful to find a sense of belonging.”
Many students left with praise about Cultural Day and the outreach that CCE does in general.
“I got to meet a lot of people going through the same thing I am,” freshman politics major Sara Nicoll Bará shared.
The Center for Cultural Engagement will continue to host events on campus promoting inclusion and community throughout the school year.
“This club is welcoming to everyone who accepts that there are people of different ethnicities, races, and walks of life at this university,” Nwuha said.
For more information about Cultural Day or future events, contact the Center for Cultural Engagement at culturalEngagement@cua.edu