A week ago, I was hobbling from University Place to the Mathey Common Room with about 100 samosas precariously balanced in my arms, hoping that I wouldn’t trip or collide with anyone on my way. That night, I was also responsible for two Yule logs, dozens of Christmas cookies, three trays of baklava, a whole bunch of dumplings, dozens of jelly donuts, hundreds of potato latkes, and the biggest jar of applesauce I’ve ever seen.
All of this was central to Mathey College’s second of four diversity events held throughout the year, Holidays of the World. With three other Mathey Residential College Advisers (RCAs), I helped to plan, organize and host this event. It went off without a hitch, except for the one tray of baklava that was dropped en route to the Mathey Common Room (unfortunately, the five-second rule doesn’t apply for baklava spilt all over the sidewalk).
It was our hope that students coming through could get a welcome reprieve from their end-of-the-semester cramming, enjoy some good food, and learn a bit about the religious and cultural traditions associated with the dishes we were serving. At best, we hoped that our fellow Mathey-ites would actively engage with the student representatives we had asked to be present at each table; at the least, we hoped that our fellow Mathey-ites would try some items that they had never had before.
To be honest, planning the whole thing was more of an event than the event itself. There were the humorous aspects: trying to explain to a very sweet and also very skeptical store owner that I did, in fact, want to order 150 pieces of baklava; the panicked phone calls about who was to pick up 100 jelly donuts and potato latkes; the horror when we thought we had misplaced all the plastic silverware and plates minutes before the event was to start.
There were also more serious aspects. In some ways, I found the very concept of being asked to plan and host a "diversity event” to be rather uncomfortable. I value and respect other cultures and beliefs as much as my own, and am happy to attend events that celebrate other cultures and beliefs. However, I often find that events that are programmed around teaching about diversity can be rather clunky. For our event, we hoped to include a variety of major cultural and religious holidays from fall through spring—Diwali, Eid, Christmas and Hannukah—in a manner that was sensitive and inclusive to all. Hopefully, we achieved that.
Planning Holidays of the World was a fun, frustrating, and ultimately rewarding experience. I laughed a lot at the ridiculous crises and shared some good memories with my fellow RCAs. But, more significantly, it made me seriously reflect on how the topic of diversity should be approached and addressed on college campuses in ways that are useful and constructive.