The newly-formed Dyson Students of Color Coalition kicked off their “My Story, Our Story” campaign this week, showcasing photoshoots and conversations of the personal memories that transformed Cornellians’ lives.
The campaign is part of the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management’s inaugural diversity week, to be held from Sept. 24-28. The college came under fire last fall for a lack of diversity throughout its undergraduate and graduate operations, culminating in a town hall where students demanded “institutional change,” The Sun reported.
“We were looking at a way to create community through storytelling and a way for as many people as possible in our community to be able to share their stories in a meaningful way and also in an artistic and creative way,” said Jennifer Majka, director of diversity and inclusion in the Dyson School.
Majka was appointed in February to address diversity concerns within Dyson, according to prior coverage by The Sun.
Michelle Reiss ’20, a founding member of the new Coalition, which held its launch party on Aug. 23 with over fifty attendees, explained that the group was created to ensure that new Dyson students receive needed support.
“The whole reason we started this organization was because we didn’t feel the needed support when we arrived, and wanted to make sure that students coming after us had the community support and resources necessary, and to make it easier for new students so they don’t have to struggle the way we did,” Reiss said.
The “My Story, Our Story” campaign photographs participating students and faculty holding a card with a written word or phrase that refers to a meaningful experience, turning point or an important aspect of their life. It is intended to “give people a place to tell their story,” according to Reiss.
“We came up with the idea for the photo shoot in collaboration with [Majka],” Reiss told The Sun. “The purpose of the Dyson Students of Color Coalition was to empower students and get the message out there that we support and accept diversity. In coming up with the week’s planning, we tried to look to different aspects of diversity that people can relate to.”
The first two photo shoots are intended to raise awareness for the campaign, with the final product to be completed on Sept. 24 during diversity week, Majka said. The first preliminary shoot took place on Thursday and another is planned for next Wednesday in Warren Hall.
The “My Story, Our Story” event will end with a reception on Sept. 25, with Lynn Perry Wooten, dean of the Dyson School, as a guest speaker. The photos from every session of the photo shoot will be compiled into a video montage, while the written cards from students will be put on display in the lobby of Warren Hall.
Dhanush Kota ’21, one of the participants in the photo shoot, found the focus on diversity “reassuring.”
“I am personally new to the Dyson community, but coming from a not necessarily diverse background and seeing all these people from different cultural experiences, I find it very reassuring that the community puts such an emphasis on the idea and concept of diversity,” Kota said.