Pascale White had already beaten cancer once before, when she was a toddler. It took three years of chemotherapy, but she was able to overcome the acute lymphoblastic leukemia that attacked her blood and bone marrow.
Pascale White, who survived two bouts of childhood cancer, will walk in the Columbia College commencement ceremony Saturday, April 29. (Photo by Kaci Smart)
Less than two years later, it came back. She was only 6 and, for the second time in her young life, battling for her existence.
The relapse is the one that sticks with her.
“I remember getting stabbed a lot for getting blood drawn. That was never fun,” Pascale says. “It affects you as a child. Any time, even today, that I have to get my blood drawn, I freak out about it. It’s hard to me, still, to even step into a hospital.”
Her second bout involved chemotherapy, whole-body radiation and bone marrow and stem cell transplants over the course of three years.
Again, Pascale survived.
“There were two years where many times they said she would not make it through the night. It was a nightmare and a terrible experience for everybody,” says Sylvie Carpentier, Pascale’s mother. “I have seen a lot of kids pass, that unfortunately just did not make it, but she pulled through. We are truly blessed.”
The time in the hospital put Pascale behind other students her age when it came to schooling and, as a result of the intensity of the radiation she endured, doctors said she may never be able to learn normally.
But she caught up through home-schooling, graduated from Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, Missouri, headed to Moberly Area Community College and transferred to Columbia College three years ago.
On April 29, she will walk across the stage during the commencement ceremony at the Southwell Complex with her Bachelor of General Studies degree from Columbia College, with minors in psychology and business.
“Pascale’s Pals,” the volunteer organization her family created in her name during her first hospital stay, raises money and provides services for patients and families who are facing similar situations to what Pascale and her family endured. Pascale, herself, still serves as the inspiration for the organization, an example of overcoming the odds time and again.
“It’s definitely made me appreciate life a lot more,” Pascale says. “It definitely makes you think about how much you had in the past and how much you want to give back to the families you see struggle like you did.”
Finding Her Place
Throughout the course of one semester, Columbia College’s Ether L. Bruce Math Center had a regular guest: Pascale White, who needed help in statistics.
“I was in there literally every day for two hours,” Pascale says, with a laugh. “They were very patient with me. It challenged me to do and learn on my own, too.”
This was just the sort of attention Pascale desired when she was looking for a school at which to earn her bachelor’s degree. She was concerned she would get swallowed up on a larger campus and valued Columbia College for the free tutoring opportunities and the one-on-one interactions with professors.
It didn’t hurt that she had some familiarity with one of the math center tutors: Tricia Vogt, who was her sixth-grade homeroom teacher at Columbia Catholic School.
“She was not going to fail at anything. Challenges were just not a problem for her,” says Vogt, who works with coordinator Susan Hughes at the math center. “That’s kind of what her norm was, to be challenged.”
“She’s one who just showed up on campus and decided she was going to take advantage of all the resources she could and make it the best experience she could for herself,” Denehy says. “She’s really done that.”
Pascale says the tight-knit campus community at Columbia College helped her make lasting friendships and forge meaningful connections. The Grossnickle Career Services Center also helped her land two internships that gave her some advance experience in the types of professions she’d like to pursue after earning her degree.
She left an imprint on the campus as well.
“Every student whom you’ve worked with, who walks across that stage, is a pride point,” says Dr. Terry Smith, who taught Pascale in his American Government class in the fall. “But folks like her, to know a little bit about her story, they’re kind of a gift to you.”
It started out with bake sales put on by Carpentier and her friends, to raise money for the sort of everyday necessities they saw during Pascale’s hospital stay.
Extra beds in the rooms, in case family wanted to spend the night. Televisions in all the rooms, so the patients no longer had to reserve the one communal TV that the whole ward shared.
In the nearly 20 years since Pascale’s Pals started, its scope has grown exponentially.
“My mom wanted to be able to help families in the future with what we’d gone through,” Pascale says. “It just branched off and more and more people started to help out, too, so we were able to do more. Anywhere in any way, we try to help out.”
Today, Pascale’s Pals raises money for gift baskets, emergency needs, hospital improvements and other services for patients and their loved ones at the University of Missouri Children’s Hospital in Columbia.
The organization brings Santa Claus to the pediatric patients on Christmas morning. It has undertaken projects such as renovations to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and equipping a new Inpatient Pediatric Rehabilitation Center.
“It’s really incredible. Right now, it has a will of its own,” says Carpentier, a chiropractor in Columbia. “Everybody collaborates. People have a lot of goodness.”
This year’s annual Pascale’s Pals fundraising gala drew 930 people on March 10. Carpentier says interest for the event was so high that she had to stop taking table reservations a month in advance.
Pascale was the main attraction, as she is every year. People always want to meet the driving force behind Pascale’s Pals, the two-time cancer survivor and soon-to-be Columbia College alumna.
“I’m very honored to be the image of it, because I am a cancer survivor. So a lot of people look up to me that way,” Pascale says. “For our organization to be to do that for the families and give them hope, it’s such an honor. We’re proud to be able to do that. Without the support of the community, all our volunteers, the hospital, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
Lights flashed, music blared, and Columbia College eSports coach Duong Pham paced excitedly on the Southwell Complex court as his players made final preparations for their semifinal League of Legends match against Robert Morris at the Midwest Campus Clash and Gaming Expo on Saturday, April 8.
“I’m so hyped for this,” Pham said.
He wasn’t alone.
Earlier in the day, when the host Cougars took down Ohio State to reach the semifinals, the atmosphere was transcendent. The hometown crowd cheered for every kill or assist registered by a Columbia College gamer, every “rampage,” every turret and inhibitor destroyed and, finally, when the Cougars took down Ohio State’s nexus to end the game.
Spectators take in the League of Legends tournament at Columbia College’s inaugural Midwest Campus Clash and Gaming Expo on Saturday, April 8. (Photo by Kaci Smart)
The players plied their trade behind computer monitors on a raised stage underneath an enormous video screen, with “Shoutcasters” broadcasting the action to the room. The spectators gathered on the court below, transfixed.
“There was a lot of energy, and I thought it was a pretty knowledgeable crowd. They knew what they were cheering for,” said Dr. Scott Dalrymple, president of Columbia College. “I know it must’ve been a really big moment for the team. It shows Columbia College is a serious place for serious gamers.”
The inaugural Midwest Campus Clash and Gaming Expo drew more than 1,000 people to Southwell Complex for the one-day event. The League of Legends tournament, involving seven of the top eSports teams in the region battling for a trophy and a pool of $25,000 in scholarship prize money, was the main attraction, but it was far from the only thing to draw attendees’ attention.
Exhibits around Southwell Complex included a classic gaming lounge with Nintendo and Super Nintendo systems, a virtual reality station, a fastest lap competition on the Forza racing game and a gigantic screen on which people could play the classic video game Pong.
At the opposite end from the League of Legends action, the Collegiate Starleague held the North American finals for the Madden 17 football game on both PlayStation4 and Xbox, complete with bleachers, a fake turf playing surface and Shoutcasters of its own.
“My lack of prowess is well-documented,” Dalrymple said. “I’ll play Pong against anybody who wants to, but that’s about it.”
Even though the Midwest Campus Clash was only in its first year of existence, everything had the look and feel of a more established event. Dalrymple heard from people throughout the day who said that Columbia College’s gaming bonanza went toe-to-toe with other events they’ve attended around the country.
“I’ve been really happy with the support that the Columbia College community and the Columbia community has given this event,” Columbia College eSports director Bryan Curtis said. “I think everybody was blown away. The facility has been completely transformed, so it’s not like it is when they’re used to coming in here for a basketball game or a volleyball game. Everybody has just absolutely loved it.”
Coach Duong Pham and the Columbia College eSports team prepare for their quarterfinal match against Ohio State. (Photo by Kaci Smart)
On the main stage, Ian Alexander was officially on a rampage. Columbia College’s sophomore top-laner had piloted his character, Fizz — an amphibious-looking being with a trident who, the Shoutcasters said, was an unconventional choice for top lane — to three straight kills and was sporting nine kills and assists against zero deaths in the first game against Robert Morris.
“Columbia College, you guys are so scrappy,” the Shoutcasters called. “What the heck?”
In the end, though, Robert Morris proved to be too much for the Cougars. The Eagles, who became the first college team in the nation to offer eSports scholarships in 2014, took two straight games to knock Columbia College out of the tournament, just as they did in the North Regional semifinals of the uLOL Campus Series Tournament three weeks earlier to end the Cougars’ inaugural season ranked in the top 16 of the more than 200 teams that competed in the tournament. Robert Morris went on to win the $15,000 grand prize at the Midwest Campus Clash, Maryville took second and $5,000, and Columbia College and Grand Valley State shared third and each took home $2,500.
“We played very well this time. We gave them a run for their money,” Pham said. “Each time we play them, we learn a little more. We’re not there yet, where we’re taking games off them or anything, but we’re getting there.”
Who’s up for a rematch next year? Columbia College will host.
“It’s always been my vision that gamers throughout the Midwest will ask each other, ‘Are you going to Columbia this year?’ Our name will become synonymous with innovation and excellence,” Dalrymple said. “Next year will be even better.”
Check out the photo gallery below for images from the Midwest Campus Clash!
Before Lindy West’s readers knew what she looked like, the negative comments her work received centered on the impersonal: the content of her pieces for the Seattle weekly publication The Stranger, her ideas, her style of writing.
Author and activist Lindy West signs copies of her book after her Women’s History Month lecture at Columbia College. (Photo by Kaci Smart)
She remembers the first personal one, the first one that referenced her appearance. It hit the internet on June 9, 2009, at 11:54 p.m. They haven’t stopped for the past eight years.
“While the tenor of my commenters was often snide and disdainful, they stuck to hating the message, not the messenger,” West told a room of around 100 attendees in Columbia College’s Bixby Lecture Hall on March 20. “Those years were liberating in a way I can barely imagine now.”
West, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper whose 2016 memoir Shrill was a New York Times best-seller, served as the keynote speaker for Columbia College Women’s History Month programming, which all centered around the theme of “Building Women’s Futures: Women and Work in the 21st Century.”
For West, a feminist and body image activist who uses her writing as a megaphone for these issues, internet “trolls” — commenters who post abusive messages about other people online — are a way of life in her workplace.
Her experience is not unique among female writers.
“Not only are we expected to grow thicker skin and get used to it, but (we’re told) it’s a part of the job, that it’s normal,” West said. “It’s not normal.”
Earlier in the day, during a session with Columbia College associate professor of history Dr. Tonia Compton’s Women’s History class, West worried the stream of abuse reserved for women has a chilling effect on younger writers seeking a platform to express themselves.
She heard from students about confronting trolls, from arguing with them to taking down Tumblr microblogging pages so they wouldn’t be able to access personal information.
“When you feel invisible forces like this holding you back, believe yourself,” West said. “It is not part of your job, no matter how effectively the idea that it is has been coded into our society. You are not imagining it. Sexism is real. It has been documented over and over and over again. You are already experiencing it. You have experienced it your entire life, and you will experience it your entire life. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can start fighting for yourself and the people around you.”
Compton, who chairs the Columbia College Women’s History Month Committee, felt West’s voice was an important one to include because of the prominence she has earned with her work and the abuse she’s endured from being an outspoken woman along the way.
“If you’ve spent any time online in the last year or so, you’ve seen arguments about equal pay and harassment in the workplace,” Compton said. “We felt like this was a conversation that needed to happen on campus. What are the ways in which gender and work intersect? What are the challenges that we’re facing now and going forward? And how do we prepare our students and communities to make things better?”
During West’s talk in Bixby, which preceded a question-and-answer session and a reception at which West signed copies of her book, she outlined several recent examples of sexism highlighted in popular media, including an experiment undertaken by two co-workers — one male, one female — in which they switched names on their email signatures for a week to see what happened.
The man suddenly found his clients rude, condescending and unwilling to take his advice. The woman had a much easier time than she was used to experiencing.
“You have to be invested in not paying attention to believe that this isn’t real,” West said. “One of the most insidious features of sexism is the endless demand that its victims prove its existence.”
West has a national following with her writing, two more books in the works and is in the midst of developing a TV show based on Shrill.
She feels the privilege of being able to lend voice to the voiceless. She urges more people to take that step.
“The more we are afraid to tell our own stories, the more that void is filled by opportunists and people who want to tell a different story,” West said. “Support people who are speaking out about their experiences. Because they really need backup.”
If you attended this year’s Missouri Collegiate DECA State Career Development Conference, there’s a good chance you walked out with the Kanye West song “Power” stuck in your head.
Columbia College’s Collegiate DECA chapter took home 14 trophies at the state competition and advanced all 12 of its competitors to nationals. (Photo submitted by Mercedes Nute)
Each school that competed at the DECA business student organization’s conference at Lake Ozark’s Lodge of Four Seasons on Feb. 23 and 24 could choose its own walk-up music for when someone from its chapter came up to the stage to receive an first-place award.
Columbia College’s chapter chose “Power.” So the song played over and over — and over — again.
“When any of us would get announced, the other people (in our chapter) were standing up and cheering,” said Mercedes Nute, a senior accounting and finance major and president of CC Collegiate DECA. “Never have we been that loud of a presence in the room. It was just nice to see your whole school back there.”
The whole chapter won the Quiz Bowl first prize, and Magdalena Myles (Retail Management and Marketing Exam), Andrea Lang and Malwina Najbar (Event Planning), Mike Richardson and Colbey Schuster (Business Ethics), and Afifa Saburi (International Marketing) also took home the top prize in their categories. Jade John also advanced to the ICDC as Saburi’s partner.
Myles (Fashion Merchandising and Marketing), Matt Frappier (Restaurant and Food Service Management), and Nute and Stephen Scott (Financial Statement Analysis) earned second-place honors; Jazmyn Youngblood took third in Professional Selling; Jerry Nguyen (Restaurant and Food Service Management), Richardson (Banking Financial Services) and Nute (Accounting) finished fourth; and Schuster (Banking Financial Services) and Lang (Restaurant and Food Service Management) took home fifth.
While Columbia College’s contingent was smaller than some of the other chapters, as Nute put it, “You can’t beat 100 percent” qualifying for Anaheim.
“We were really able to bond together, that we all won. We never had that experience before,” said Richardson, a senior finance and management major who is CC Collegiate DECA’s state representative. “Going home, nobody was sad. Our entire bus was happy.”
The competition in each category involved a mixture of testing and role play, in which the competitors were presented with a real-world problem and tasked with coming up with a solution that would appease their judges, themselves industry professionals.
In Anaheim, the competition gets tougher, the lights get brighter and the crowds get bigger. And the opportunities for learning and career advancement abound.
“What’s a vacation for us is going to seminars and stuff. That’s not always for everyone,” Richardson said. “We’re just all nerds and really like that stuff. So, for us, it’s the equivalent of going to Maui.”
Nute, Richardson and Frappier, a senior marketing major who is the chapter’s vice president, form the core of the CC Collegiate DECA executive team, along with Myles, the secretary, and Saburi, the treasurer. All of them followed different paths to DECA.
Richardson joined in high school after being assigned a Marketing class and finding he had a knack for it. Nute signed up at Hey Day her freshman year to get a college resume builder, then fell in love with it. Frappier joined after taking Marketing classes at Columbia’s Hickman High School, like Richardson.
His childhood dream was to own a Dairy Queen.
“I said, ‘If I’m going to be owning a Dairy Queen, I’m going to need to know marketing,’” Frappier said. “I took that class and my teacher, Pete Eichholz, was just so passionate about marketing. That led me to DECA, because he was an advisor.”
All of them feel as if the learning and networking opportunities afforded by their involvement with CC Collegiate DECA will position them well for getting jobs after graduation. They also feel that you can only get as much out of DECA as you put in.
Chapter advisor and instructor of business administration Ken Akers says that isn’t a problem for these three.
“These are just really, really special people. These are young professionals. They are so dedicated to the college,” Akers said. “They have just been remarkable to work with. This is truly a student group. I’m just along for the ride.”
Frappier said he and the other executives could tell there was something special about this year’s group because all the chapter members were eager to learn and get involved from the very earliest meetings in the school year.
That led to them running the table at states. And sending a few people home humming Kanye West.
“We’ve got a group of winners,” Richardson said. “Nobody went down there just expecting ‘I’ll do my best, but whatever.’ Everyone wanted to win.”
For a moment, as Ethan Howser rounded the bases at Atkins Field on March 3, he thought he might be dreaming.
The Columbia College baseball team on its home turf at Atkins Field. (Photo by Kaci Smart)
Howser, a sophomore center fielder from Waynesville, Missouri, was the leadoff hitter for the Columbia Cougars baseball team in its first home game in 35 years, the first batter to head to the plate before a home crowd after the program had been dormant since 1982.
And he socked the first pitch he saw from Williams Baptist starter Ryan Andrews over the fence in left field for a home run.
“It was kind of like a movie, you know?” Cougars coach Darren Munns said. “You couldn’t write a better story.”
Howser’s shot set the tone for a successful homecoming for Columbia College, as it blasted Williams Baptist, 16-5, in seven innings. Cougars hitters pounded out 16 hits and scored 12 runs over the fourth and fifth innings in support of starting pitcher Zach Maskill, who gave up two runs on four hits and struck out five over five innings of work.
Leftfielder Tanner Allen ended the day in style, diving to snag a sinking line drive for the final out.
“We were pumped all season just for this day,” Howser said. “We came out and killed it, in my opinion. It was a good day.”
Columbia College has had a lot of good days during its first season back in action. The Cougars are 11-2 in American Midwest Conference play and sit at 21-9 overall.
That’s despite the fact that their roster includes only 10 juniors and seniors to go along with 24 freshmen.
“We have a lot of great upperclassmen that are leaders and really kind of show us the ropes on how their programs have been before,” said freshman second baseman Ward Mershon. “Our coaches kind of set the example on what to expect from us here at Columbia College. I think we just kind of all come together and play the game.”
The Cougars are scoring 8.2 runs a game offensively and have three starters hitting better than .400 on the season. First baseman Andrew Warner, a junior transfer from Longview Community College in Missouri, is hitting .459 with eight home runs and 39 RBI. Maskill, a senior from Kansas City, is 3-3 with a 2.35 ERA on the mound, and junior Jeremy Rettig is 6-1 with a 3.46 ERA. On March 17, junior pitcher Cody Ebert threw a no-hitter against Morthland College, only the second no-hitter in Cougars baseball history and the first since 1977.
Maskill came to Columbia after the program at his former school, Lincoln University in Jefferson City, folded.
“It’s honestly the nicest thing I’ve ever been offered in my entire life,” Maskill said. “I’m 100-percent blessed and thankful. So I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
A spirited crowd of Columbia College faithful showed up on a cold, blustery afternoon to cheer on Maskill and his teammates in the March 3 home opener.
Columbia College President Scott Dalrymple threw out one of four ceremonial first pitches, along with Jim Sublett, who played baseball for the Cougars in the late 1970s, trustee George Hulett — who played baseball at Missouri and in the minor leagues — and Columbia Public Schools Athletic Director Bruce Whitesides.
All the fans received a commemorative baseball emblazoned with the interlocking “CC” athletics logo and “2017 Columbia College Home Opener.”
The team on the field was able to feed off the energy coming from the stands. Even if it took players an inning or two to shake off some jitters.
“There was some nervous energy, for sure. A lot of adrenaline, but definitely ready to play,” Munns said. “We’ve been chomping at the bit to play at home for a long time now. We finally got to play at home, and guys were excited. I’m glad we came through.”
Munns said the excitement from alumni who played for the Cougars during the program’s first stint — some of whom he knows personally from his time living in the community — has been palpable.
He saw a number of them in attendance at the home opener and hopes to see even more at the alumni reunion April 29, a day on which the Cougars host conference foe Freed-Hardeman.
“We’re definitely going to get them involved as we move forward,” Munns said. “We want to play well, play the right way and make those guys proud of Columbia College baseball.”
Anticipation continues to build as the inaugural Midwest Campus Clash and Gaming Expo (@MWCampusClash on Twitter) will take place Saturday, April 8 at Columbia College! The event, which is free and open to the public and is the first of its kind in the area, will bring some of the top collegiate eSports teams and gamers in the country together in Columbia, Missouri, to compete for a $35,000 scholarship prize pool. eSports teams from the following schools will be vying for top honors in the League of Legends tournament:
University of Michigan
The Ohio State University
University of Kansas
Grand Valley State University
University of Illinois
Robert Morris University
After a month-long League of Legends elimination tournament, these teams have emerged to battle for a $15,000 top prize. The second-place team will receive $5,000 and third- and fourth-place teams will each receive $2,500. Matches will start at 10 a.m. and will be called by professional Shoutcasters live in the Southwell Complex arena.
In addition to the live tournament viewing space, the Expo area will include several gaming experiences for all ages, including a Forza racing competition, Absurdly Giant Pong — the classic video game Pong played on a gigantic screen — Halo and Call of Duty tutorials, Virtual Reality experiences, awesome door prizes and a gaming lounge open to all gamers! Area food trucks and an exhibitor space to sample the latest gaming gear will also be featured during the day-long event.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase some of the top eSports teams in the country and introduce our Columbia and campus communities to a national audience,” Columbia College Director of eSports Bryan Curtis noted. “The event will feature something for everyone interested in gaming, and we are looking forward to welcoming visitors from all over the Midwest.”
The Expo area will also play host to the finals of the Collegiate Star League’s (CSL) Madden NFL Championship Series, part of a partnership between the CSL and EA Sports. Two students who completed a grueling tournament taking on hundreds of fellow students from around the country will have the opportunity to represent their school and have a shot at $10,000 in prize money.
“We’re proud to be one of the first colleges to offer eSports scholarships and thrilled to play host to such an exciting, competitive event,” Curtis said.
As someone who’s going through the adoption process herself, Columbia College-St. Louis location director Erika Thomas has a soft spot for children who are in the foster care and adoption system.
As she talked to her staff about the location’s upcoming involvement with the Cinderella Project — an event held by the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition of St. Louis — she realized she wasn’t alone.
“It kind of pulled on everybody’s heartstrings a little bit,” Thomas said. “I found out that a few of my staff were actually adopted, went through foster care. Or their mom was adopted. It just seemed like everybody had some kind of connection.”
Over a five-week period that ended February 14, Columbia College-St. Louis collected 77 prom dresses for the Cinderella Project, which provides new or slightly used dresses to high-school aged girls in the St. Louis area who can’t afford a formal gown.
Thomas said she first became involved with the group three or four years ago while working at the Art Institute of St. Louis. When she was named director at Columbia College-St. Louis last year, she already knew it was a great way for the location to get involved in the community.
“I really felt how things like this can change a young lady’s life. A lot of times, they just need a positive, somebody who takes the time to mold and care for them,” Thomas said. “There’s nothing like a school being associated with something in the community. We care about the people in the community, and this is what we do.”
After Columbia College-St. Louis and the other 20 donation locations around the area collected their dresses, they brought them all to the Refresh resale boutique store in Brentwood for a “Say Yes to the Prom Dress” event March 4.
Thomas and other Columbia College-St. Louis staffers volunteered their time as personal shoppers for the girls who came in looking for dresses, taking them around the store and helping them pick out the perfect look.
She said it’s important for the staff and students at Columbia College-St. Louis, which has a strong human services program, to see the sort of people their work can benefit, as well as letting college prospects in the community know about the academic programs the location has to offer.
“It’s that word of mouth. Most of the time what we hear from students is they find out about Columbia College from somebody they knew,” Thomas said. “It’s because somebody they knew at church, across the street, a best friend, whatever the case may be. We’re coming from a good, healthy place. We want to make sure they don’t feel like we’ve just cut them loose and sent them off into the woods. Just letting them know they still have support as they age out of the foster care system.”
And it’s not stopping with the Cinderella Project. Thomas said the location is already in the process of creating a partnership with the Fathers’ Support Center of St. Louis, which helps people become responsible parents, and wants to branch out into other community endeavors.
“I believe it brought us closer together and gave us something else to shoot for,” Thomas said. “It makes an impression on the students, because the students see that we care about the community, and we’re not just trying to sell you education.”
Bixby Lecture Hall was filled to capacity for Columbia College’s inaugural “A Night of Unity” talent showcase Feb. 22.
Columbia College student Sarah Richardson performs a spoken-word presentation at the “A Night of Unity” talent showcase. (Photo by Camille Mahs)
Director of New Student Programs Kim Coke took the packed auditorium as an encouraging sign of the importance supporting diversity holds for a sizable segment of the Columbia College community.
“I’ve been at Columbia College 17 years. Tonight is the pinnacle of my career,” Coke said. “It is incredible to see the amount of support we have on our campus. It fills me with pride that I can say that I’m part of the Columbia College community.”
“A Night of Unity” served as a way to celebrate the uniqueness and accepting nature that permeates Columbia College. The Student Affairs office’s Diversity Action Team put out a call all over main campus for performers to highlight the kindness and care that exist within the college community.
In the end, 16 acts including more than 60 Columbia College students signed up to be heard, sharing their talent in everything from song and dance, to spoken word presentations, to performance art, to animation.
“How do we meet the students where they are and still be able to infuse an educational, intentional experience for students?” Coke said. “There’s a lot of creativity on campus. Arts are a great way to convey the message.”
Throughout the event, which was co-sponsored by the college’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, videos reinforced the themes of acceptance and love, culminating in a video produced by the Diversity Action Team and the video production team from the Marketing department in which Columbia College students and staff shared their appreciation of the diversity on campus.
The Jane Froman Singers started out the night with a rendition of “Let My Love Be Heard,” and a cappella versions of The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?” and The Turtles’ “Happy Together” followed later in the program.
Bixby also served as a place where students could give voice to some of the racial tensions that still haunt society. Ivana Easley read an original poem called “What Are You?” about her experience growing up as a mixed-race woman, and Sarah Richardson performed a piece, originally by Tolu Obiwole and Ashia Ajani, called “Black College,” about being an African-American student going to school at a mostly white institution.
“There are questions that I’m always asking as a result,” Richardson said during the performance. “Am I the space left over? Your diversity quota? A box checked ‘yes’ for ‘ethnic?’ Did you accept me, hire me, kiss me for my skin or for who I am? Am I enough? Am I what you expected? Am I qualified? Or just black?”
Coke shared her own story about trying to help African-American friends avoid the anger and hate speech flowing from protestors when racial discord broke out at her high school during the desegregation movement in St. Louis during the 1980s.
“All across campus, we’ve heard the conversations that are unfolding: in living rooms, residence halls, classrooms, and in small spaces that feel safe enough to house those kinds of conversations,” Coke said. “This is an opportunity to give voice to these more intimate moments as we question our humanity.”
At a reception following the event, attendees were encouraged to sign their name to a pledge that they would “demonstrate empathy when listening to others,” “look inward in order to examine our actions and reactions” and “see both the diversity and unity in humanity.”
The hope is that Columbia College students, in the words of a spoken-word performance that student Kate McHughs set to animation, are part of the “generation screaming and fighting for unity and peace, and we will win. Because love always wins.”
Check out a photo gallery of the event below, from student photographer Camille Mahs.