KINGSTON, R.I., Sept. 8, 2015 – The University of Rhode Island will celebrate its differences – sometimes with a heavy dose of humor – during a week of talks, workshops and activities during Diversity Week later this month.
This year much of the focus is on satire as a way to promote social change on issues involving race, gender, sexuality and religion. Most of the events – free and open to the public – are at the Multicultural Student Services Center, 74 Lower College Road, on the Kingston campus.
The keynote speaker is Paul Beatty, a poet and novelist whose latest book, “The Sellout,” is a satirical look at a modern-day slave owner. Critics have praised Beatty for using humor to talk about racism with uncommon frankness.
Beatty will discuss “African American Satiric and Comic Traditions” Monday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m., in the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences Auditorium, 120 Flagg Road, also on the Kingston campus.
Born in 1962 in Los Angeles, Beatty received a master’s degree in creative writing from Brooklyn College and a master’s in psychology from Boston University. He was raised in Woodland Hills, Calif.
In 1990, he won the first-ever Grand Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poet Cafe, which led to the poetry collections, “Big Bank Takes Little Bank” and “Joker, Joker, Deuce.” His first novel, “The White Boy Shuffle,” was praised by The New York Times as a “blast of satirical heat from the talented heart of black American life.” He has written several more books, in addition to “The Sellout,” which is based in a neighborhood called Dickens, where an urban farmer advocates a return to slavery and segregation.
The 73 talks, workshops and events for Diversity Week, in its 19th year, will focus on a variety of topics, from the controversy surrounding the killings of unarmed black men throughout the United States and changing student demographics on college campuses to sex trafficking in South Asia and world hunger. Documentaries about the civil rights movement will be shown, as well as a film featuring LGBTQ students at URI talking about their experiences.
For the second year, URI faculty and staff will also interview activists – many college students from the north – who were beaten and bullied in the south during the Freedom Summer Project, a nonviolent movement in the summer of 1964 to end segregation. Activists will also talk about the Selma to Montgomery marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Last year, 17 activists were interviewed. Those interviews are now archived at http://digitalcommons.uri.edu/freedom_summer. This year, activists will also recount their experiences in sessions Monday, Sept. 28, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Multicultural Center. In the evening, the activists will gather for a dinner in the Memorial Union.
Also this year, faculty and staff from the College of Engineering will talk about how to increase diversity in the engineering field. Those discussions will be held Wednesday, Oct. 30 in the Multicultural Center. And Friday, Sept. 25, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., faculty will discuss teaching strategies in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math in URI’s first “STEM Diversity Institute.”
Among other events:
* Naomi Thompson, assistant vice president of the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, will talk Friday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. in the Multicultural Center about “The State of Diversity and Inclusion at URI.”
* A screening of the film, “It Gets Better at URI: Coming Out for Change,” Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m. at Edwards Hall. The film features students, faculty and staff talking about what it means to be a member or ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community at URI. The film provides moving stories of struggle, perseverance, discrimination and compassion. Afterward, three students in the film will participate in a panel discussion.
* A talk Monday, Sept. 28, at 11 a.m., in the Multicultural Center about how students with gender and sexual differences are marginalized and profiled. Susan Trostle Brand and Adam Moore, both education professors, will oversee the discussion.
* Brand’s daughter, Jessica Brand, will talk about her experience transitioning from a man to a woman. “Shame, Blame and a Bit of Fame: Tales of a Transgender Teen” will start at noon, Friday, Oct. 2 at the Multicultural Center.
* Annie Russell, director of URI’s Gender and Sexuality Center, will talk about “Transracial and Transgender: What Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner Teach Social Justice Advocates.” The discussion will start at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29 in the Multicultural Center.
* Dhanashree Pandit-Rai, a world-famous singer from Mumbai who is spending two weeks at URI as a Distinguished Visiting Artist, will give a talk about Indian music Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m., at the Multicultural Center.
* Leticia Orozco, coordinator of fitness and wellness in URI’s department of campus recreation, will give a one-hour workshop Thursday, Oct. 1 at 10 a.m. about body image and weight lifting. The session in the Fascitelli Fitness & Wellness Center will debunk myths about what women should look like.
* Donna Hughes, professor in Gender and Women’s Studies, and Pravin Patkar, a Fulbright scholar, will compare sex trafficking in South Asia and the United States. Through examples, they will describe how the crime is carried out and the impact it has on victims. The talk will start at 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1 in the Multicultural Center.
* Judith Swift, director of URI’s Coastal Institute and professor of communication studies and theater, will talk Friday, Oct. 2 at noon about humor that “crosses the line.” The talk will look at why we laugh, what we laugh at, and when a joke is inappropriate. The talk will be held at the Multicultural Center.
* Sandra Ketrow, a professor in communication studies, will discuss the role of humor in families and how strong families use humor to maintain a positive outlook on life. The talk will start at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 at the Multicultural Center.
For a complete program, visit uri.edu/mcc or contact Neng Yang, a URI senior and computer specialist at the center, at 401-874-2851.
Diversity Week is sponsored by the Multicultural Center, the Diversity Week Planning Committee, the College of Engineering, and the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity.
Paul Beatty, a poet and novelist who is the keynote speaker at URI’s 19th annual Diversity Week, from Sept. 25 through Oct. 3. Photo courtesy of Paul Beatty.
Melvin Wade, director of the Multicultural Student Services Center, and international students at URI. Photo courtesy of the center.