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Sustaining What Matters

Students navigate the popel shaw center through uncertain times.

From left, seniors Sarah Archer-Days, Frank Williams and Orli Segal co-led the Esther Popel Shaw Center's programming this year. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

Students navigate the Popel Shaw Center for Race and Ethnicity through uncertain times

by Alejandro Heredia '16

For much of the academic year, racial tensions—from Ferguson, Mo., to Staten Island and from San Francisco to Baltimore—have galvanized college students across the country to participate in the #blacklivesmatter movement, whether through direct action or dialogue.

At Dickinson, much of that action and dialogue has been led by three seniors working in the Popel Shaw Center for Race and Ethnicity (PSC): Sarah Archer-Days, Frank Williams and Orli Segal.

The center is named in memory of Esther Popel Shaw, class of 1919, the first known African American woman to graduate from Dickinson; and as the PSC's diversity assistants, Archer-Days, Williams and Segal have worked all year to ensure that members of the Dickinson community—particularly but not exclusively students of color—had a place where they could hold honest and sometimes difficult conversations.

“We serve as a resource to students, faculty, staff—the entire institution,” says Archer-Days (sociology). “The center is a safe space for questioning, dialogue and education.”

Some of the events they've organized include a campuswide vigil in December, during which students and faculty gathered to express thoughts and feelings about police brutality and racial injustices. At the end of the weeklong MLK Symposium that spanned February and March, they led #MarchOnDickinson, a symbolic rally across campus in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his work for social justice.

“Our goal for the event was to get people to understand that social movements and organizing is accessible to anyone and for any reason,” explains Williams (law & policy and Africana studies). “At PSC, we talk the talk, but the march gave everyone the chance to walk the walk.”

Earlier this year, the students also organized the 12th-annual Diversity Monologue Contest, an event that showcased diverse, unique Dickinsonian narratives through spoken-word and other performances.

Williams and Segal (sociology) have worked in the center since their sophomore year, and Archer-Days jumped on board during her junior year. This year, the students worked independently while the college undertook a search for a new director.

Archer-Days adds that even though working without a director this year has been challenging, she hopes that other students get the opportunity to participate in the center as she and her peers have.

“I would love this to continue to develop into a sort of program that allows students to be true leaders on their campus,” she says. “No one knows the pulse of a campus the way a student does, so I would love to see diversity assistants in the future take on an even bigger role at the center.”

And they have great expectations for the center after they graduate, as they look forward to Vincent Stephens, formerly the director of multicultural student services at Bucknell University, taking the helm as director of the PSC June 15.

"The student leaders of the center were instrumental in interviewing and providing valuable feedback on the candidates," says Joyce Bylander, vice president of student life and dean of students. "They, more than anyone, know what kind of person the center needs.”

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Published May 13, 2015