After a busy day at the Emerson organization fair, Lucie Pereira showed no signs of fatigue when she arrived at a library study room to be interviewed. It’s the second week of classes, and already Pereira, the co-chair of Protesting Oppression With Educational Reform (POWER), is poised to rally support for the organization.
“Here at Emerson we have a lot of students who care about diversity and cultural competency. We have a lot of faculty, staff, and administration who care,” said Pereira. “POWER is trying to be a liaison between those groups. We need a way for the students, the faculty, and administration to communicate and accomplish those goals [of inclusivity] together.”
Now about a year old, the student task force POWER continues to influence the Emerson community to step-up cultural competency among faculty, administration, and students.
“We intend to serve as an active reminder to the community that we must strive to always represent and include all perspectives and identities present within the institution,” said Nathaniel Charles, Pereira’s fellow co-chair, in a written statement sent to the Berkeley Beacon.
With the start of a new school year, POWER has undergone some changes. Pereira, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major stepped into the position of co-chair after Taylor Jett, one of the founders of POWER, graduated last spring. Charles, a senior visual and media arts major and co-founder, fills his role as co-chair from Emerson College Los Angeles this semester.
The task force was born directly out of the student walk-outs in April 2015, said Pereira. Several hundred protesters streamed into a faculty assembly to demand that the college reassess and reform its policies and practices involving diversity and inclusion. Students who spoke at the assembly told stories of discrimination and microaggressions they experienced within classrooms, which they felt inhibited their education. The following fall, the faculty Ad Hoc Cultural Competency Committee formed to address the concerns brought up during the demonstration.
“The organizers of that protest decided that we needed to find representatives from each department so that we could make sure that all the demands we made in the protest would actually be followed through on,” Pereira said. “We wanted to monitor the action [towards inclusivity] as it was happening and do everything we could to support it.”
As it stands now, POWER is not an SGA-recognized student organization and considers itself still in its formative stages. “We’re a student group that’s very nebulous right now,” said Pereira.
But their novelty has given them the adaptability to fill in exactly where they’re needed. Associate Professor of Visual & Media Arts Miranda Banks, the new co-chair of the ad hoc committee said, “POWER has been our guide in better understanding the issues that have been happening on the ground and in the classroom and departments. They are critical partners to our work.”
Pereira said one of the biggest accomplishments for POWER happened at a faculty assembly last March. Their involvement with the ad hoc committee helped pass a motion that ensured continued mandatory faculty cultural competency training, curricular audits for diversity and inclusion, and a program that would respond to incidents of bias.
To Banks, though, POWER’s biggest accomplishment is the input the group offered the ad hoc committee and department chairs.
“The assembly was the event. But the work before and after the assembly is what matters,” she said. “I’ve been very impressed by their commitment and their dedication to the community and each other as they work to try to change this campus.”
Thus far, POWER has ensured their involvement with the department chairs by appointing department senators who serve as liaisons between the minority student community and the faculty as they try to restructure classroom practices and curriculum to be more inclusive.
Gregory Massimino-Garcia, a junior communication sciences and disorders major, returned this year as a senator working with the communication sciences and disorders department.
"I think it’s just important to at least recognize and acknowledge that there are still faults within the departments, and the school, and the people that go to school here, and [to] know that there’s always a chance to change that.” said Massimino-Garcia. “POWER is a great starting point in trying to get the first steps done for an ultimate end goal: a more welcome and open space.”
As the new school year kicks into gear, POWER is in the process of hiring new senators, this time upping the number of representatives per department from one to two. Pereira said they want to increase the number so that the senators can help each other bring new ideas to the departments.
Though POWER’s current focus revolves around reform within departments, Pereira said they’re also working on broader issues. This year, they want to get involved with enrollment so that they can actively increase diversity in the student body. They’re also working to get scholarships set up specifically for students of color.
“We just want [POWER] everywhere,” said Pereira. “We want to be influencing as many spaces of the school as we can.”
While POWER primarily aims for a better environment for students of color, Pereira said, “We support all kinds of diversity, like sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, all those things. We want Emerson to be as fully inclusive as possible in every way.”
Despite this, POWER does not have much current involvement with the Office of Diversity & Inclusion or the cultural organizations on campus. Pereira said that right now they prefer to work directly with faculty to help implement changes, but that they would like to collaborate more in the future.
Banks said the members of POWER provide crucial insight about the experience of students of color on campus, creating a clearer and more empowering narrative.
“They are authorities of what happens in the classroom every day because they are living it,” said Banks. “They are speaking truth to power as POWER.”