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Welcome address: "choose to do better"

by Kari Ashworth - News Editor
Tue, Oct 22nd 2019 09:20 pm
The College at Brockport welcomed poet Denice Frohman to begin its annual  Diversity Conference Thursday, Oct. 17.
The College at Brockport welcomed poet Denice Frohman to begin its annual Diversity Conference Thursday, Oct. 17.

The College at Brockport’s 19th annual Diversity Conference kicked off at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, with a welcome address featuring poet Denice Frohman. 

The Sankofa African Dance and Drum Ensemble began the morning with a musical number, followed by Chief Diversity Officer Cephas Archie welcoming the crowd to the event. 

The theme for 2019 was “Creating and Sustaining an Inclusive Community,” which Archie said was developed around “the critical academic and community partnerships within and outside of the immediate Brockport area.”

Archie recounted a training seminar he sat in on prior to the conference that was focused on understanding ableism. One of the presenters emphasized the duty to intentionally learn of others, saying “know better to do better.”

“As I reflected on the statement, I wish to add a single word: ‘know better, choose to do better,” Archie said. “The Brockport community must remain committed to choosing to both be and do better. We must not become complacent in efforts only to build a better Brockport but push forward to creating the best Brockport and community…We must continue to be the leaders of the discussion of what equity, diversity and inclusion are both inside and outside of our classrooms and isolated one day, that alone cannot and will not drive sustainable and meaningful change. But if the one day event serves as an intentional and progressive caveat permeating inclusiveness, respect and value for all people, then together we will build the best Brockport.”

In promoting this year’s theme, the Association of Latinx American Students (ALAS) co-sponsored the welcome address. ALAS developed a list of speakers they would like to bring to Brockport and ultimately decided on Frohman. 

“The reason why we decided to bring her here was because she stands for what we stand for, which is obviously the Latinx community, but we also try to be really inclusive to everyone around us,” ALAS Community Service Coordinator Yisel Hernandez said. “We all relate to the poetry, and we really feel like she was the voice we were missing here at Brockport.”

Frohman is a queer woman of Puerto Rican descent. She grew up in New York City and attended Drexel University on a basketball scholarship. 

Frohman began her speech by posing a question to the audience, asking who writes, and about half the room raised their hands. She then asked who in the room is a writer and most people lowered their hands. Frohman said this is what typically happens when she poses these two questions together.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘what is the distinction between those two things,’ how do we interpret these questions,” Frohman said. “And really, to me, it’s about who is seen as a writer, what does it mean to be a writer. And I think more broadly, whose story is worth telling, whose story matters, whose body matters, which is an essential question we’re wrestling with and grappling with in this country, right? Who belongs is this country? And I was thinking a lot about how inclusivity and exclusivity happen at the language level, and how those each act, reflect and shape how we treat each other.”

But for Frohman, she would not have raised her hand for the second question when she was a freshman in college. She said she graduated high school “with a very dangerous misconception that Latinx people did not write poetry.” Frohman ultimately discovered poetry on her own while browsing her college’s bookstore.

Language and culture is the first thing we can change, according to Frohman, which can shift the “microcosm of democracy.” 

“We will have a stronger democracy, stronger communities, if we all built an intentional relationship with language,” Frohman said. “It is important to investigate and unpack the language, that we all care about ourselves and others.” 

Frohman performed four poems for the audience, including one she wrote following her participation in a protest in Puerto Rico.

The welcome address set the tone for the entire day, and those who attended were prompted by Archie to be mindful of others, take notes and make new connections, all in an effort to create and sustain an inclusive community. 

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