By Sam Tarr
November 27 2016: The Massasoit Tribune
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was one of the coldest days so far in this year’s mild autumn. The overcast skies and frigid winds, along with the temptation of the open road to the holiday break, began emptying out the Brockton campus parking lot, just before noon.
However, a small group braved the elements.
Faculty, friends, and a few students gathered in the Brockton quad to “stand together,” in what was billed as a celebration of “Massasoit’s unity, solidarity and diversity.”
The smell of Nag Champa blew through with gusting wind. Bob Marley played over the PA as attendees worked on a collaborative art project using colored chalk. A single microphone stood mostly unused. At the whim of attendees, the music would be lowered to hear a poem or message.
Deanna Yameen, Dean of Humanities & Fine Arts, was seen playing hop-scotch.
Yameen, the lead organizer, said the event was designed to let “everyone know that they are accepted and valued.” The organic feel of the gathering was intentional, Yameen stressed her desire to make sure the event didn’t have a “scripted” feel.
The event, even if by coincidence, was the second in a run of Massasoit events bringing people together through the arts.
Last week, The Creative Writing Club as well as the English and Comm Arts departments held an “Mic-Drop,” an open mic held in correlation to the release of “The Lantern,” Massasoit’s Literary and Arts Journal.
Mark Rocheteau MC’d the event, as students and faculty performed original works and favorites including an Everly Brothers song and a charming recital of the classic but tired “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost.
Maybe it was because I had just watched a performance of Amiri Baraka’s “Somebody Blew Up America,” in my American Literature class, but the lack of topical material was noticeable.
Days removed from nationwide protests, a building resistance movement, and statewide campus walk-outs, Massasoit students performing at the “Mic-Drop,” didn’t seem to have much to say on the subjects dominating the news.
Just under two weeks after the stunning presidential election, I expected the impeding Donald Trump presidency and scorched-earth campaign which led to his rise, to be a major theme of the event.
But maybe that’s because I missed the point.
At Wednesday’s “Stand Together In Appreciation,” Professor Leigh Bennett said the event wasn’t necessarily in response to the recent election but aimed more at the “post-election climate.” An unprecedented climate, with disturbing trends.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, reported that there have been over 700 “incidents of hateful harassment” in the week following the election. Also, a chilling video from a white-nationalist conference in Washington D.C., drew national attention.
“Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!” said Richard B. Spencer at the National Policy Institute conference. Attendees offered up Nazi salutes for the man who helped popularize the term “alt-right,” and has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
White nationalist groups across the country have found inspiration and renewed vigor, since Trump’s election. All this leading to increased anxiety and concern in a country more divided than ever.
But instead of demonstrating against something, organizers tried to stand in solidarity to bridge that divide, making sure Wednesday’s event was open to all.
Professor Bennett passed out cards featuring a mandala, the unofficial symbol of the event. The mandala translates roughly from Sanskrit into “circle.” The card described it as a “cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.”
“Through the mandala,” the card read, “we create a visual representation of our unity with diversity. We come together to honor our individuality through a collective experience.” The “Stand-In” and “Mic-Drop” are just some of the collective experiences being organized at Massasoit.
Professor Katherine DiMarca was one of the main organizers of Mic-Drop, and continued her efforts at Wednesday’s event.
“We’re still looking for ideas,” Professor DiMarca said, noting that plans are in the works for more “gatherings,” aimed to “bring people together using the creative process.”
Given the circumstances, the event was considered a success by those in attendance. Organizers will no-doubt look for ways to drive up student interest and turnout. Of the dozens in attendance, few if any could be easily identified as members of the student body.
As the open-mic wrapped up last week, I wondered if Massasoit students had anything to say in the face of the unprecedented, unfolding events.
As demonstrations of opposition and unity break out across the country, organizers at Massasoit are making sure students have a place to gather and a microphone to speak at.
An opportunity that has largely not been taken advantage of by students, so far.
As those organizers try to “celebrate what brings us together,” it will be interesting to see just what they have planned to try to bring together Massasoit students, who seem to be more inclined to race off in dismissal, than “Stand Together in Appreciation.”