“It’s a matter of being woke,” states Victoria Thomas. Woke is a powerful word. It’s not just the past tense of wake, but “being woke” is a term that is quickly becoming mainstream. With roots in African American vernacular English, woke describes a person who is aware of issues concerning social and racial justice.
Victoria’s role as a multicultural advocate is to awaken her fellow students—to challenge and shake up their own definitions of diversity and inclusion. “Diversity is not minority groups coming together, but something larger. It is all people coming together and sharing their own life experiences and beliefs for the benefit of the entire community. For example, I am Trinidadian and Puerto Rican. I am a student and a worker. I have lived in Springfield, MA, and in the South. And I am the daughter of ministers. My perspective is different from the person sitting beside or across from me, but our views are equally important. In my mind, inclusion is finding a common space where we can all respectfully discuss those differences and how they relate to issues in our world.”
Throughout the year, Victoria has been working in the Office of Multicultural Affairs helping to plan and coordinate events, such as LatinX Heritage Month and the Black History Month Symposium. Recently, she held the first event, “Two-Sense: Paying Attention to Pressing Issues,” in the Critical Conversation Series with other students. But if Victoria would have to point to one “ah-ha” moment from the last several months it would be her interview with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College and author of the acclaimed book, Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.
I grew up somewhat shy because we moved frequently, and often I just wanted to blend into the background. But now, because of my work as a multicultural advocate, I feel I am growing into the person I am meant to be. Even a couple of years ago, I never would have imagined I would be up on a stage interviewing Dr. Tatum in front of hundreds of people. I can’t even explain what that did for me.”
Dr. Tatum’s appearance on March 2 was a result of the University’s ongoing efforts to become a more diverse and inclusive community as part of Vision 2019 (For additional info see On Campus. Online.) “Dr. Tatum truly opened my eyes. I think I speak for many in the audience who were also enlightened by her knowledge. And that was one of my most important takeaways. She encouraged me, and others, to use our academic privilege to analyze and be thoughtful. Always ask questions and educate yourself. It is up to all of us to develop a mindset of being engaged.”
And how would Victoria sum up her experiences for the past year? “I can definitely say I am woke. But I still have a long way to go.”
Actually, Victoria is well on her way.
Victoria Thomas is a biology major with minors in chemistry and small business development. In April 2018, Victoria delivered the winning pitch for her product MicroBuddy, a portable allergen pen, at the annual Grinspoon Foundation Elevator Pitch Competition. In front of an audience of hundreds, her business plan was one of three which came out on top over student representatives from 13 other area colleges and universities. Victoria is also the incoming 2018-2019 president of the Student Government Association.