Six faculty members share ‘stories that shape us’

Caroline Kehrli, Staff Writer

Members of the University community came together in the Weis Center on Sept. 19 to discuss issues of bias, privilege, and the importance of being an ally and advocate for social change. Six faculty members shared the stories that have molded their views of race, class, ability, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender in a forum titled “Stories that Shape Us.” The event was sponsored by the Department of Community & Leadership and the Office of the Associate Provost for Diversity.

Associate Professor of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering Wendelin Wright was the first to take the stage. She discussed her battle with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that can permanently damage the nerves of the brain and spinal cord. Not only did Wright have to deal with the difficulties of the disease, but she was also working on obtaining her Ph.D. in materials science and raising two young boys with her husband.

Wright shared her initial apprehension in making her struggle known, fearing what others would think. However, she uses her newfound strength to discuss the importance of staying positive in the face of extreme adversity. “A happy life doesn’t have to be a perfect life,” Wright said.

Associate Professor of Music Christopher Para discussed the struggles of the LGBTQ community, especially among the Latino/Latina population, of which he is a member, and the personal impact that the terror attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016 had on him. Para described how music gave him something to hold onto in a culture in which he felt he must be invisible. He went on to stress the importance of being open with who you are. “It is only by being visible that we have made the strides we have made,” Para said.

Associate Professor of History Claire Campbell discussed how she grapples with her identity as a Canadian living in the United States. She described her relatively easy immigration experience as a product of her privilege. Being a white, educated woman with financial and legal resources made the process of coming to the United States a much easier experience compared to those who lack such advantages. She also highlighted how living in the United States shows her the places in which Canada must improve. She highlighted President Barack Obama as a clear example of the strides the United States has made towards racial equality, more so than Canada.

Associate Professor of Mathematics K.B. Boomer also discussed privilege in relation to the immigration system. She touched upon the stories that challenged everything she thought she knew about race relations in the United States, especially in regards to raising her two children, whom she adopted at birth. “Being a part of the Bucknell community means treating others fairly–in the classroom or out, on the field or off, Monday morning or Saturday night,” Boomer said.

Assistant Professor of Physics Deepak Iyer discussed his experiences growing up in Mumbai and his struggles with India’s caste system, which is built upon discrimination. He told stories of his time in college, in which he made friends with people of different castes but also noted the lack of women at the university in which he studied.

Associate Professor of Physics Ben Vollmayr-Lee closed the forum with a lesson on the importance of being an “ally.” He urged those in the audience to constantly educate themselves on current issues, be prepared to act, diversify their perspectives, and learn to acknowledge their privileges.

Although the audience was moved by the stories shared by the faculty members, the event faltered in attendance. Attendance has been lacking at many similar events recently.

“I think more riveting than what any of these people had to say, although they all had really important things to say, was the fact that people didn’t show up.” Tehani Gunaratna ’20 said.

Despite concerns over attendance, Wright finished her portion of the discussion with an important message, especially to the first-year students in the audience: “You are capable of so much more than you can imagine right now. You will survive the bad things too.”

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