Each year, the Diversity Committee welcomes guest speakers to Pierce College to address shortcomings in their professional fields. This week, that event was combined for the first time with an open mic, which gave students an opportunity to take the stage and speak freely to their peers.
The first half of the occasion was devoted to the diversity committee event, which was, for the most part, a casual interview. Two chairs were set up on the Great Hall stage, where assistant administrative analyst and organizer Christine Valada sat beside guest speaker Nilah Magruder. Magruder is the author and artist of “M.F.K.,” a web comic.
“So, diversity. What’s it like being a black woman working in this field, she asked from her position of white privilege,” Valada said, following the frank question with a sort of half-joking recognition of its serious implications.
Magruder’s response set the tone for much of the discussion.
“It’s lonely,” Magruder said. “You don’t run into very many black women in animation or comics.”
She added that the gap in racial and gender equality in the workplace is more noticeable in the field of animation than in the fields of comics and publishing.
One of the most discussed points was the under-representation of female and minority characters in animation and comics. Magruder mentioned Disney in particular, and said that the company has been both a positive and negative force in the issue of diversity in animation.
“Weirdly, I think Disney is probably better at this than most studios. But Disney films can also be sort of offensive,” she said. “They’re not always positive representations, but they do try.”
Magruder’s web comic, “M.F.K.,” won this year’s Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity and centers around a strong-willed and independent female character.
After the interview concluded, the Open Mic commenced. Topics and performances varied greatly and ranged from poetry readings to musical performances.
ASO President Alex Oloo was among the first to speak, and delivered a motivational speech to students.
“Be happy we are in school,” Oloo said. “ Be happy we are here today. Be happy we are sharing ideas today. Be happy we are talking to each other.”
In his speech, Oloo said he believes it’s important that students remain calm under pressure.
“As we prepare for our exams coming up, it’s almost the end of the semester. I know most of us have been studying and have a lot left to do,” he said. “This is the time you relax. Don’t think too much. Once you relax, and you go to your exam room, everything will be just fine.”
More than 20 students signed up and took the stage, many of whom recited excerpts from poems they identified with. The Great Hall sounded with the words of Edgar Allen Poe, William Butler, Langston Hughes, Charles Bernard Shaw and others.
Santiago Medrano, a mathematics major with a passion for graffiti art, spoke about his experiences resisting the gang and drug culture in his neighborhood.
“I came here when I was 11 years old to the United States,” Medrano began. “I was always constantly bullied through elementary and middle school.”
Medrano said that though he would hang out with gang members, he was frequently pressured to use narcotics as a way to fit in, but never caved. He decided to distance himself from the gang members he’d associated with.
“I started changing my mentality and started focusing more on art,” Medrano said. “Now I’m a graffiti artist. I do murals. I work on Venice art walls where it’s permitted to go and paint.”
Medrano said he only paints where it’s legal to do so, and differentiated between his murals and tagging.
“I don’t vandalize. I do graffiti art,” he said. “I do graffiti art, not tagging. I’m sorry, but I don’t appreciate tagging because that is not alright.”
Jodh Garchal, who has not decided on a major, also took the opportunity to tell his story about prevailing over a very different kind of adversity.
Garchal has a disability which requires him to undergo corrective surgery on his lower leg every few years. He also has difficulty with his speech, and for both of these reasons he was the target of ridicule and bullying when he was in middle and high school.
“I went to high school, and I had a big old cast on my foot,” Garchal said. “And I joined the after school jazz band at my school, and I played trumpet.”
His talent caught his teacher’s attention, and he was offered a place in the All-City band, which marches in the annual Rose Parade. Garchal was overjoyed at the chance, but received harsh words from some of his classmates who believed he would be unable to complete the five-mile march.
“A guy came up to me, and he said ‘On New Year’s Day, you’re going to prove to this band, and prove to the world that you are nothing more than a cripple that should have stayed home,’” Garchal said.
When the day came, Garchal said he marched the entire five miles with his foot still bleeding from a recent surgery.
“Afterward, that kid came up to me, the kid who called me a cripple,” he said. “He came up to me and he said, ‘Jodh, that was one hell of a job you did today.’”
Though some students attended as part of class requirements, some stopped in just for the opportunity to showcase their work. Eddie “EJ” Johnson, an undecided major, heard the event from outside and came in to check it out.
“I was walking by and I was inspired by the courage, and seeing people walk up here and say whatever they felt,” Johnson said. “So I actually composed an original piece while I was sitting there eating two corn dogs.”
Johnson’s piece, a spoken-word poem he wrote after he’d signed up to speak, was fittingly called “Inspired.”
“The world will know my name, my place, my stance, my chance, was by the world for change,” Johnson said rhythmically. “Obama said ‘Yes we can,’ but I said ‘When will we do.’”
Throughout the Open Mic, students were overwhelmingly supportive of speakers, and took extra time to applaud those who seemed shy or nervous. At first count, the event had about 30 students in the audience, but that number gradually rose and peaked at about 60. Nearly every speaker left the stage to cheers and applause, and most were smiling as they returned to their seats.
It was easy to see how someone like Eddie Johnson would feel inspired.