By Kaie Quigley – Co-Editor-In-Chief/Digital Sports Editor
The annual “U-Belong” event was back this year as students gathered in the Arnow quad to socialize, play games, eat foods from a variety of cultures, and more on September 14.
The event was held from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., and featured several attractions for students to enjoy, including but not limited to: a bouncy house, an inflatable obstacle course, soccer darts, cornhole, and a diverse selection of foods and desserts. There were also free t-shirts available, and a station where the shirts could be tie-dyed with bleach.
Among those enjoying the event was first-year health science major Blaise Lanou, who said the event “gives the impression that we’re a good community. [They] make sure we enjoy our time here.”
According to Assistant Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jesse Tauriac, that is exactly what the event is all about. “I think that it’s important to start the year in this way because we want everybody to be able to come together and build connections and relationships,” said Tauriac. “But we also want to send a message.”
While bringing the community together is a mainstay of U-Belong, the goal of the event, according to Tauriac, “is to make sure everybody knows that they have a place on our campus, that they can bring every part of themselves here.”
Two speeches were delivered to kick off the event that reflected this message. Firstly, was a multilingual welcome speech that was meant to make international and multilingual students feel at home on campus.
Next was a powerful speech from alumni Ruth Kehinde (‘21) on the importance of unity between the Black Lives Matter (BLM) and pride movements. “The United three screams out unity. These communities deserve to be on that flag pole at this liberal arts university,” said Kehinde in her speech. Kehinde named the flag “The United three” because it combines the BLM flag with LGBTQ+ and transgender pride colors.
While the first U-Belong event took place in 2019, this was the first time many students had experienced an in-person event on campus in over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This year is certainly more similar to the first year…,” said Tauriac. “Last year, we were dealing with social distancing, and we had to keep everybody separate…, this year is much more of a celebration, our community [has] the opportunity to be together face to face.”
Coordinator of Intercultural Engagement & Commuter Life, Alum Alanis Perez-Rivera (‘21), who helped coordinate the event, said “Especially post [COVID-19], it’s really nice to see everyone out there having fun.”
Perez-Rivera, who graduated last May, was brought on amidst the planning of the event, and according to Tauriac, “did a phenomenal job.…She’s actually only been in this current role for about three weeks, but she stepped in and was just unbelievable,” he said.
Perez-Rivera spoke on what it was like to have now experienced the event as a student, and as a faculty member, saying, as a student, “you imagine it took a lot to plan it, but it is really heartwarming to see it come together when it’s your hard work. I put the work in, and now people get to enjoy it and have a good day…very full circle for me.”
“I think in terms of getting the event set up and run, there were so many people who did a phenomenal job,” said Tauriac.
Tauriac credited Perez-Rivera for excelling in her new role, praised senior Anna King for her graphic design work, which included designing the logo for the event t-shirts, and thanked Director of Conference & Auxiliary Services Patrick O’Connor for overseeing event management, and Michael Quackenbush of Chartwell for organizing catering efforts.