Connecting across cultures
Student organizations associated with the ICC celebrate 20 years of history
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 00:03
Some Brandesians view the Intercultural Center as a place to briefly stop by between classes to print last minute papers. Those people are missing out. The ICC is the umbrella organization of over 15 cultural clubs, and to members of those clubs, it is a home away from home.
The Center celebrated its 20th anniversary this weekend. The celebration began on Saturday with an alumni reception, a celebration in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and a lantern ceremony.
Sunday was the main commemoration and began with a reenactment of the first meeting held by the ICC before its inauguration in 1992. In the mock meeting, students expressed feelings of isolation at the University. They saw the ICC as a remedy to their shared sentiment.
Student members of the programming board, Simone Wornum '12 and Simon Zahn '12 welcomed the guests in the Hassenfeld Conference Center and thanked the ICC for allowing them to grow in their four years at the University.
A video montage then revealed that Wornum and Zahn were not unique in their perspectives—all the students in the video expressed their feelings about the ICC being a safe space for personal growth.
Monique Gnanaratnam, the director of the Center, spoke after the video about her work at the ICC over the past five and a half years.
"It is so nice to see where seats are filled in and see what faces are here. … All of these faces that I've had the opportunity to work with, … there's so much passion and so much love, so much sense of family," she said.
ICC visitors may know Gnanaratnam from being involved in their clubs, but less frequent ICC guests certainly know Taneeta Bacon, the department coordinator, as the smiling woman at the desk at the entrance. Gnanaratnam thanked Bacon for her continuing contributions to the ICC.
"I always have to drag out Miss Taneeta because she does not like these public displays of affection. We are each others's left and right hand," Gnananaratnam said.
Gnananaratnam's greatest work over her five years, along with all the members and contributors of the Center, has been integrating it into the University community. There are now over 600 programs a year that take place in the ICC.
"When we first came, it was me, Taneeta and the noise of the fan until the students finished class at three, and it got busy," Gnanaratnam explained.
After this introduction to the celebration, each club's representatives spoke on behalf of their clubs and the influence the ICC has had on them personally.
The Brandeis Asian American Student Association, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, started by thanking the crowd of students, alumni and administrators.
All of the clubs that presented, whether the Brandeis Asian American Student Association or Brandeis Black Student Organization, expressed a common sentiment of familial love and a sense of place they found in the unassuming brick building.
The presentations by the clubs were smoothly and effectively interrupted by other events in the program, such as a beautiful saxophone solo by David Wheaton '15.
When the club presentations continued, Kenta Yamamoto '10 spoke at the last minute on behalf of the Japanese Student Association (JSA), which he had left two years ago when he tossed his tasseled hat in the air.
His ability and willingness to fill in demonstrated that the ICC imprints something special on all its participants. The ICC stays with alumni long after their departure from campus.
A newcomer to the center this academic year, Jessie Beal M.A., program coordinator for sexuality and gender diversity, introduced a series of alumni speakers and discussed Triskellion's home in the Center.
Cary Weir Lytle '98, associate director of employer relations at the Hiatt Career Center, gave an emotional account of his experience at the University and his difficulties in coming from an extremely diverse background to a much less multi-cultural environment. Lytle eventually found his place at the ICC.
The same was true for Michael Yim '08 who came from a small Dutch town in Pennsylvania. When he initially came to the University he felt the same as he had in his hometown—as being the most different-looking. Again, that was until he became involved in the ICC in his second semester.
"I realized that the difference between my town and the community at Brandeis. Although my town had curiosity of my life, my background, my culture, when I came to Brandeis there was exponentially more curiosity. There is a drive to learn about each other," Yim explained of his experience.
As Yim has moved further in life, his Brandeis friends stand out to him as having qualities and perspectives unique to the University.
"To this day, I do not have a friend from a different campus that talks about their experience from an intercultural setting. … I'm very proud to brag about you guys," he added.
Mingh Hattori '09 came from a predominantly black and Latino community in the Bronx and experienced culture shock in coming to Brandeis, but because of her support from the ICC, she was able to leave the University with a new lesson.
"By the time of graduation, being the only person of color in a situation didn't bother me anymore," she said. Hattori then moved to a town in Japan where she was the only foreigner and person of a different race, and she taught English there for two years. As she is now moving back to Boston, she feels at ease knowing that she has a family at the ICC.
The event concluded with the first Inspiring and Creating Change award to Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Undergraduate Education Elaine Wong, who has been a supporter of the center and its mission since its inception. Current students and alumnus Peter Wong '89 helped present the award to Elaine Wong by narrating their experiences of her generosity, personal interest and commitment to their success at the University.
The ICC was not in existence yet when Peter Wong was a student and was personally advised by Dean Wong. He noted how small clubs were before the Center opened several years after his graduation.
Although the ICC is open to everyone in the University community and should be utilized and enjoyed by students of every color, religion, sexual or gender identity, the event was what Gnanaratnam described as "insular" in that it was like a family reunion. It felt like old friends coming together and exchanging stories of a place that has a deeper meaning than anything learned in the classroom or experienced at weekend parties.
"That's what the ICC is about. It's about our stories, how our stories intersect, it's about how we can learn from each other, and it's about why our lives are better off because we knew each other," said Beal.