Cultural Performance Groups Promote Campus Diversity

When it comes to diversity, SUNY New Paltz and the town itself  have been critiqued for lacking a population of color. This, however, has not hindered many students of color at the college to take matters into their own hands by founding, joining and recognizing many of the clubs around campus that work to unify and celebrate cultures from around the world. Through mediums such as song, dance and theater, these students have been making a cultural cornerstone of extracurricular activities.

Adriana Dulmage, a fourth-year sociology major and vice chair of the Student Association, has become aware of many clubs run by students of color in her line of work.

“I think there are enough and plenty of clubs that focus on students of color,” she said. “There could always be more, but I think that RSA and things like that aren’t promoting these clubs and events well enough.”

She said that there is a bit of a communication chasm between white students and students of color and often, white students aren’t aware of these clubs and organizations and their events. Nonetheless, this isn’t interpreted as lack of support.

“There’s a lot of support within these communities of color because tickets are selling out to these events, like the Mr. and Mrs. Africa pageant,” she said.

She states that the lack of participation on behalf of white students isn’t just due to lack of promotion, but rather that it’s systematic of the racial make-up of the New Paltz student body.

Approximately 1,000 freshmen were admitted for the 2015-16 academic year. Of that number, only 50 were black students, and 14 of them were black men.

While issues of race at SUNY New Paltz cannot be ignored, students are still able to have rich cultural experiences on campus due to performance-based clubs that aim to entertain and educate.

For Jeannette Sanchez, a fourth-year music major, singing has proven to be a key to cultural enrichment. Sanchez is co-president of Melodia and Movement, a performance group on campus that utilizes Latin beats and songs.

While she states that the club initially started in order to make a space for Latino students to express themselves, it quickly became open to including melodies from around the world.

“Music can be that connection between every culture,” Sanchez said. “It bridges between everything and everyone, like a beautiful tool.”

  • Full team photo taken at Dance Evolution Fall 2015 with presidents Carly Tashjian and Jeannette Sánchez pictured on the far right. Photo by Jeannette Sanchez.

Melodia and Movement’s 18 members exemplify diversity.

“We have a good, healthy mix!” Sanchez said. “Black, white, Latino and exchange students of various ethnicities. It’s about celebrating all cultures.”

She said that making members feel included is an aim of the club, and in semesters where  Brazilian and Korean exchange students joined, they were eager to explore melodies from those countries.

“We learned a song in Portuguese and explored Korean music,” Sanchez said. She made it clear that Melodia and Movement is not just about introducing music from different parts of the world on campus, but also expanding the group’s own horizons when it comes to knowledge of other cultures.

Melodia and Movement performs about three or four large performances a semester, with a handful of small performances dedicated to partners or a small team.

Another way to bring students of all different backgrounds together is through a common love of dance, according to Culture Shock Dance Troupe’s President Jennifer Prince and Vice President Taylor Fishman.

“There are so many different nationalities and backgrounds within Culture Shock, and they all have their unique styles and personalities,” said Prince, a fourth-year biology major.

The eclectic dance group often incorporates dance styles such as hip-hop, lyrical, vogue, reggae and contemporary.

While it is now known for vigorous training and impressive dance routines, Culture Shock started 20 years ago as a small group of friends meeting to practice dance, and this tight-knit feel still translates into the club today.

“It’s nice to come together at 8:30 on a Tuesday night and be free,” said Fishman, a third-year finance and management double-major.

Culture Shock has used its member base to promote itself through many different cultural events on campus, such as fashion shows, dinners and events hosted by the African Women’s Alliance and Latino Week.

“Having different and diverse friend groups and bringing them together makes a great crowd,” Fishman said.

The Culture Shock Dance Troupe holds auditions in the Fall semester and performs up to seven times a semester.

While some clubs at the college have been cherished by students of color for years, Ubuntu Theatre is one of the newer cultural organizations on campus, with Lua Arcos and Victoria-Rose Jurado founding the club this Fall 2015 semester.

“When we first proposed this club, we were denied,” said Jurado, a third-year theater major. “We were told, ‘Why should there be another organization for people of color? There are already so many.”

After pitching the club again and focusing on how they are an education-based club that works to build a community of color around a passion for theater, their proposal was accepted.

“While we hope to someday be able to have a performance component, for now we are more focused on education about culture, theater, film, and leaders of color,” Jurado said.

When asked about the nine women members of the club, Jurado said having an all-women’s club was a coincidence.

“Men tend to think the arts are closed off to them, while women tend to have a more open mind about these things,” Jurado said.

Arcos said that in the future, she would love for more men to feel free to join.

Ubuntu Theatre has not hesitated to start important conversations on campus. During Hispanic Heritage Month, they held a workshop that discussed what it means to be Latina in the media, examining the lack of roles for Latina actresses, stereotypes and whitewashing.

“A lot of things in the media are made by white men, and we want to critique their image of us,” Arcos said.

As far as a core principle goes, passion seems to be at the root of Ubuntu Theatre.

“Passion is a component to theater, and people also have a passion to learn,” Jurado said. “It’s present when bringing your heritage and theater together.”

Ubuntu Theatre hopes to have more activities next semester, both with the campus community and within itself.

“We are always looking for new ideas and support,” Jurado said.

Natalia Keogan

My name is Natalia Keogan. I'm from New Jersey but spend my time between semesters working in NYC. I'm graduating from SUNY New Paltz in May 2017 and I love fashion and literature!