Powerful Voices

Diversity Monologues marks 10th anniversary with compelling performances and new twists 

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Picture of Yazmin Watkins

Brittany Barker '15 was already an accomplished spoken-word poet when she visited Dickinson during her senior year in high school. As she walked across campus with a tour group, a flier for the annual Diversity Monologues caught her eye. "I was really excited to see that, because I knew that this was a place where I could voice my thoughts and feelings," she says. "I knew that if I came to school here, I'd want to be a part of that event."

Three years later, Barker has gotten her wish—and she's helping others find their voices too, as the campus celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Diversity Monologues contest.

Held Friday, Nov. 30 (Rector Atrium, 7 p.m.), and sponsored by the Office of Diversity Initiatives (ODI) and its subdivision Voices of the People, the contest provides a unique opportunity for students to present original works to a panel of professional poets and to a gathering of peers, bringing to light a spectrum of ideas relating to identity, community and resistance. Prizes are awarded to the top-scoring student competitors, and guest performers bring additional inspiration and experiences to the mix.

Continuing the legacy
Traditionally, the event is headlined by spoken-word poets from arts organizations across the region and nation, but this year's contest has a distinctively Dickinsonian twist. Young alumni members of the Dickinson spoken-word-poetry group Silent Poets—Tiffany Hwang '11, Tiffany Mane '10, Ashley Peel '11, Rich Robinson '08, Flosha Tejada '11, Yazmin Monet Watkins '09 and Tynesha Wright '08—will travel to campus to share their works.

"Inviting alumni to perform as guest artists is our way of really honoring the continuity and growth [of the program] over the past few years," says Landis House Program Assistant Sara Klemann, who organized the event under direction of ODI director Paula Lima-Jones. "Their legacy continues on our campus, and we're still connected to them and their mission and work, just as we're still committed to creating spaces where student voices can be heard."

"Honesty is the way"
Last month, the event organizers debuted a Diversity Monologues workshop series to help students continue that legacy. Representatives from the English department and the Counseling Center joined student poets Fabian Hernandez '15, a veteran of the 2012 Semana Poética, and Barker, president of Dickinson spoken-word group Exiled, to offer tips about how the young writer-performers could think through the messages they wished to convey and polish their writing and performance skills.

During her presentation, Barker offered simple pointers to her fellow students, saying, "When you write to impress, you lose the heart of what you are saying. You need to keep in mind who you are talking to, what you're trying to say and why we should be listening. If you can answer those questions, you're on the right track. Honesty is the way."

Students remaining true to these principles connect powerfully with the audience, she says, creating a unique and moving communal experience for everyone involved. "The Diversity Monologues invite you into the lives of fellow students who are brave enough to share their experiences," Barker explains. "What they learn is that for every student who shares their story there are so many more out there who feel the same way."

Related Resources:
Office of Diversity Initiatives
Voices of the People on Facebook, Weebly and Twitter

Published November 28, 2012