Rewriting Realities contest winners explore social justice issues

Graduate Assistant Ben Daniels: “The winners really dived deep into how their identities are impacted by society.”

The first place winner of the Rewriting Realities contest’s literature category senior Young Kwon, made her way to the front of the room for an emotional reading of her poem “I Am.”

Kwon became momentarily overwhelmed as she began sharing her work about some of the obstacles she has faced in her life.

“Sometimes my stories are deemed irrelevant and are pushed to the side,” Kwon said. “I learned that not telling my story was easier, but now I’m slowly realizing that even though it’s hard, telling my story is powerful and healing for me.”

With an outpouring of patience and audible support from the audience, Kwon read her poem and received a round of thunderous applause at the end. Winners of the third annual Rewriting Realities contest were honored April 26 for their submissions that explored race, sexual violence, childhood, society and mental health to answer the question “Who are You?”

The Multicultural Certificate Program sponsored the contest that allowed students to submit a creative entry in one of three categories: visual art, creative literature or this year’s new digital storytelling category.

The Multicultural Certificate staff and nine judges from MU and Columbia volunteered their time to sift through over 60 entries. Three winners and an honorable mention from each category were selected for awards. Cash prizes, ranging from $300 for first place to $100 for third place, were awarded to the winners.

“We put this ceremony together each year to recognize the students that go out of their way to write about personal issues affecting their own identities,” Graduate Assistant for the Multicultural Certificate Program Ben Daniels said. “The winners really dived deep into how their identities are impacted by society.”

Rachel Harper, director of the Writing Center and coordinator of the Honors Humanities Sequence, represented the panel of nine judges with a short opening speech. Beginning with a reference to the recent passing of musical legend Prince, Harper drew a parallel between Prince’s efforts to promote and display diversity in his lifetime and the importance of promoting that type of diversity on the MU campus now.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies Jim Spain then introduced each of the winners.

First place winner, sophomore Eryn Harris, was honored for her video “This Is Me.” Black female students spoke about their insecurities to communicate the importance of loving oneself no matter what.

“We all have things that we wish we could change, but in reality we were created this way for a reason,” Harris said. “I choose digital storytelling as my platform because I wanted everyone to get some type of feeling when they heard the ladies speak on their insecurities.”

Junior Haylie Larsen shared her winning piece “Break.” The colored pencil and graphite drawing juxtaposes a gray robotic face representing society’s rigid ideals. A colorful phoenix represented free-flowing creativity. Despite creating a first-place piece, Larsen almost did not submit an entry to the contest.

“I had taken a break from art to focus on school and was just getting used to creating art again, let alone creating art for others to see,” Larsen said. “However I decided to take a leap of faith because nothing happens unless you make it happen.”

Noor Azizan-Gardner, assistant deputy chancellor for diversity director, wrapped up the ceremony with remarks about the diversity efforts of the university. She emphasized the importance of lending one’s life to others, even if just for a moment, as she said that is the only way to learn about and from one another.

Multicultural Certificate Program professor Etti Naveh-Benjamin, agreed.

“Diversity is important on this campus and on everyone’s campus,” Naveh-Benjamin said. “When people come from diverse backgrounds, have diverse experiences and engage in diversity related conversations, the working and studying environments become more inclusive, safe and respectful.”

Edited by Waverly Colville | wcolville@themaneater.com

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