MSU Offers a Home on Campus for Students of Color
The organization’s Stay Woke Week runs this week, featuring educational panels, childhood nostalgia, and other events around diversity and social justice.
BRISTOL, R.I.– The Multicultural Student Union’s Stay Woke Week, happening today through April 1, is a great opportunity to learn more about MSU and the community they have created for students of color, where everyone at RWU is welcome.
From educational panels to lighthearted activities, Stay Woke Week is all about “challenging people’s perspectives and ideas,” said Jesahias Quiroa, MSU’s president and a junior from Cranston, R.I.
For Quiroa, whose parents were born in Guatemala, MSU has given him a sense of belonging on a campus where, as first-generation college student, a commuter and a student of color, he hasn’t always felt a sense of connection, he said.
Quiroa, who’s double majoring in Legal Studies and Political Science and minoring in Philosophy, said he joined MSU during the spring semester of his sophomore year.
“MSU was the place where I felt comfortable. It helped me get back to who I was. I appreciate myself and my culture a lot more,” he said. “I love everybody there. I see them not just as my friends but as my family.”
Madison Dixon, MSU’s public relations chair and a first-year Music major from Roselle, N.J., agrees. Because RWU is a predominantly white campus, she said, MSU offers students of color a space to talk and unwind.
The organization is a “very inviting and welcoming space to talk about things you might not feel comfortable talking about (elsewhere) on campus,” she said. The organization has given her a place to go where people look like her and share the same experiences as her, she said.
“It’s a sense of home,” she said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Everyone Is Welcome at MSU
“We welcome everyone,” Quiroa said. “We want everybody to come.”
MSU is an organization led by students of color working to provide educational opportunities on matters of diversity. As part of the group’s mission to raise awareness, organizers said they host different events about a range of topics during Stay Woke Week each semester.
The mission of MSU is to “foster a sense of community, not only for people of marginalized communities but for everyone to hear and listen and learn about different people’s experiences and perspectives,” Dixon said.
While MSU has mostly Black and Latino/Hispanic members, Quiroa said he wants to make sure the organization includes all communities of color.
At the same time, white students can attend meetings and listen and learn how to be an ally, Dixon said.
Quiroa’s advice for students, especially first-year students, is to reach out and get involved. “Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone,” he said.
MSU, which began as a club on campus, was granted organization status by the RWU Student Senate in spring 2005, said Jerrel Burgo ’10, assistant director of Student Programs, Leadership, & Orientation, who is a former MSU president and current advisor to the organization. Stay Woke Week grew out of a similar event, Diversity Week, that began in 2010, Burgo said.
The organization currently has six executive board members and 54 general members, said student leaders.
MSU hosts meetings on Tuesdays in GHH 208 at 5:30 p.m., which are open to all students. Dixon said leaders don’t want students to be afraid to share their thoughts and opinions. “That’s the nature of our group: speak your voice, have your voice heard,” she said.
The organization is also planning events around Earth Day, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and ways to destress around finals, Dixon noted.
For every Stay Woke Week, “we want to highlight something new,” Dixon said. “We want to expand our discussions.”
Past events have focused on the history of voting rights, Indigenous People’s Day, immigration in America, a slam poetry night, and a documentary screening of “13th,” she said.
This year’s Stay Woke Week schedule includes:
Monday at 7 p.m.: Angela Harrelson and Paris Stevens, aunt and cousin of George Floyd
The week kicks off with a virtual discussion of the Black struggle in America with Angela Harrelson and Paris Stevens, aunt and cousin of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May 2020. Find the Zoom webinar link on Hawklink.
The event will focus on “police brutality as well as other areas of society where discrimination is common like housing and education,” Dixon said. “Their main mission is to spread awareness about these issues that have been impacting the Black community for decades with this unfortunate infamy that has been placed on their family.”
Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in GHH 208: The Latin-X Factor
The Latin-X Factor is a student-led discussion about the history, meaning, and future of the word LatinX and what it means to people on a personal level, Dixon said.
Wednesday at 7 p.m., Mary Tefft White Cultural Center: Decolonizing Art – A Panel of Black Women Artists
A panel featuring two professional Black women artists, who will discuss their journeys, inspiration, and the decolonization of art, Dixon said, as well as life after graduation. For students in general, but also specifically for first-generation students.
Thursday at 8 p.m., GHH Atrium: MSU and SAGA co-host Trans Day of Visibility Jeopardy Game Night
MSU is partnering with the Sexuality and Gender Alliance for Transgender Day of Visibility, a celebration of the trans community, featuring a Jeopardy-style game. Quiroa said he and SAGA president Sophie Speliopoulos wanted to collaborate on Trans Day of Visibility to shed light on intersectionality within communities.
“We definitely want to celebrate that,” he said.
Friday at 3 p.m., GHH lawn: Field Day
Stay Woke Week closes with a Field Day to celebrate your inner child. Students can unwind and have fun with activities and snacks full of childhood nostalgia.
Dixon explained the idea behind reconnecting with your inner child: children in communities of color and minoritized communities are often forced to grow up faster than other children, and as adults, they can feel that they’ve missed out on their childhoods.
“They didn’t have time to be a child,” she said. “They feel a sense of lacking once they are adults.”
This event “is a beautiful way to incorporate this social idea but also keep it fun and engaging,” Quiroa added.