Students, faculty and staff flooded into McLaren on Friday for USF’s annual Critical Diversity Forum. The forum aimed to expand on-campus dialogue about critical diversity and acknowledge the importance of such conversations. “We are here to reflect upon the extraordinary legacies of social justice and activism that we have here,” said Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Donald Heller in his introduction. This year, the forum included a panel of four diversity activists including: Betty Reid Soskin, the oldest park ranger in the country; Leroy Moore, founder of Krip-Hop; Isabella “Isa” Borgeson, internationally acclaimed poet; and USF alum Carlos Menchaca, a New York City Council member representing Brooklyn .
As a recent USF alum, Menchaca connected with students almost instantly. He was the last of the panelists to leave after the event, still talking to students long after the room was empty. “The world is so big, but it can come down to your level. Wherever you are, you can connect to the rest of the world starting with you,” said Menchaca.
Since graduating, Menchaca became the first openly gay legislator representing the Brooklyn District in New York City. He is also chairman of the immigration commission for city council. During the election, Menchaca, who is of Mexican descent, defeated a Puerto Rican incumbent in a primarily Puerto Rican district. This has brought intense opposition from the Puerto Rican community and support from the Mexican community. “I have to hold up then remove my Mexican flag, depending on the space,” said Menchaca in a private interview with Foghorn writer Emily Wichtrich.
The forum also included panelist Betty Reid Soskin who, at 96 years old, is the oldest park ranger in the United States. She was instrumental in the establishment of Rosie the Riveter National Historical Park to memorialize the role of women on the homefront in World War II.
Soskin has a personal connection with slavery. Her great-grandmother was 96 when she was freed from slavery by the Emancipation Proclamation. “I was 27 years old and married with children before my slave ancestor died,” said Soskin.
She lived through the civil rights movement, where she participated in sit-ins and rallies. Soskin has personally witnessed the transformation of black opportunity in America, from her great-grandmother’s enslavement to today. “The nature of democracy is such that it will never be fixed, because that was not the intention,” she said.
During her lecture, Soskin emphasized that we must constantly strive toward a more compassionate future. She explained that the issues covered during the forum will never be completely solved. We must always strive toward becoming the more perfect union our forefathers envisioned. Soskin received a standing ovation as she ended her lecture.
Leroy Moore is the founder of Krip-Hop Nation, an international movement that uses hip-hop as a means of expression for disabled musicians. “We wanted a network of disabled musicians and performers, especially in hip-hop, to challenge the music industry, to challenge hip-hop and say we’ve always been here,” said Moore. He is also a writer, rapper, activist and self-proclaimed feminist.
Moore released a children’s book titled “Black Disabled Art History 101” the day before the forum. “[I wanted to] write and talk about disabled people of color in society, outside of the courtroom, really talking about issues the disabled rights movement hasn’t touched,” said Moore to Foghorn writer Mardy Harding.
Freshman Luke Stowell said, “It really touches me when I hear people speak who seem to want a positive, objective change that doesn’t just benefit themselves but society as a whole.”
Isabella “Isa” Borgeson’s poems have been performed on CNN, the Inquirer and the 2015 United Nations Climate Change negotiations. During her presentation, she performed a moving poem about her mother weathering a typhoon in the Philippines.
During the Q-and-A session, a student asked how she coped with sharing her personal life with the world. “It’s the balance between having an open dialogue with folks and refusing […] there are some stories that only my mother will understand, that cannot be translated,” said Borgeson.
This article has been edited from its original print edition to reflect a more accurate statement made by Freshman Luke Stowell.