Maryville College held the 10th anniversary of the annual two-day student-centered G.L.I.M.P.S.E. (Gathering, Listening, Igniting, Mending, Persevering, Surviving and Empowering) Conference on Nov. 10. and on campus. Although this is not a particularly well-known event, it is certainly an important one.
The G.L.I.M.P.S.E. Conference is a leadership conference for people of color, and this year more than 140 students from Centre College, Sewanee: University of the South, Eastern Kentucky University, Berea College, Tusculum College, Maryville College, Fulton High School and Maryville High School participated.
G.L.I.M.P.S.E. offers a space for students of color to share their experiences at predominantly white institutions (PWI’s), and educates them on how to fight social injustices while additionally teaching them how to take care of themselves during unsettling times.
The theme of this year’s conference was “fulfilling your full potential through self-care.” I very much appreciated this year’s theme, because I have found it difficult to actively stay involved in the fight for justice while also trying to take care of myself both mentally and emotionally.
As someone who comes from a Middle Eastern Muslim and refugee background, it is hard to just stand by and watch people degrade my existence because of ignorance or misinformation on certain topics. At the same time, putting myself in those kinds of situations is exhausting on all levels. I find it important to educate others, but I also find it important to take care of my own well being.
My favorite session at G.L.I.M.P.S.E. this year was a panel led by Dr. Kathie Shiba, Maryville College Professor of Psychology. Other panel members included Dr. Frances Henderson, Associate Professor of Political Science; Dr. Bentin Louis, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee; Daniel Gomez, Maryville College Alumni; and Patricia Robledo Business, liaison for the City of Knoxville.
Each member of the panel discussed his or her life experiences as a person of color, and I found it interesting how, even though we may not share the same heritage or cultural background with each other, we all have gone through similar experiences.
We have tried to blend in instead of showcasing our culture, we have shamed ourselves for seeking help when we need it and we have limited ourselves because we are afraid of what the outcome may be. It is time for us to unapologetically be ourselves.
In addition, Shiba encouraged people of color to support other people of color–a piece of advice with which I really resonated. I will never know what it is like to be anything but a Middle Eastern-American Muslim woman, but that does not mean I cannot help others who have also had life experiences dealing with or going against white supremacy and the patriarchy.
Intersectionality is important; we need to amplify the words of the people around us, lend our ears to show support and stop re-centering conversations that are not about us to begin with, especially non- black people of color taking the voices of black people of color away.
Our keynote speaker on Saturday evening was Colber Prosper, a Maryville College Alumni. Since it was the 10th anniversary of G.L.I.M.P.S.E., Prosper told us the story of how the G.L.I.M.P.S.E. Conference was born. During the 2006-2007 academic year, racial tensions were very high on this campus – a Confederate flag was hung in Anderson Hall, swastikas were drawn in parking lots and one of the black football players found banana peels hanging outside of his room in a residence hall.
Vandy Kemp, the Dean of Students at the time, had conversations with Prosper about what changes he wanted to see on campus. He recalled saying, “I want two busloads of black people on this campus.”
Kemp mentioned at this year’s G.L.I.M.P.S.E. that she had no idea how to go about doing that until she attended a conference. Once she returned to Maryville, she shared the idea of holding a student-centered conference that brought in students from different parts of the region. G.L.I.M.P.S.E. was created as a result, and it is just as important then as it is now.
This story was inspiring for me to hear, because it reminds me that bringing about change is possible.
G.L.I.M.P.S.E. plays an important part in helping student leaders of color at PWI’s in this region figure out how to make positive changes in the world.
One thing I have noticed since the start of the 2016 election process is that many people do not listen to others for the sake of listening, but they instead listen for the sake of responding. For our conversations to have any meaning at all, like Robledo told G.L.I.M.P.S.E. participants at the panel, it is time we hit the pause button, and actually listen to what the people around us are saying.