CU Denver celebrates cultural diversity

Students experience campus diversity
Photo: Erica Barillari

With a swipe of a student ID, doors were open to CU Denver’s fourth annual Cultural Diversity Festival held in the Tivoli Turnhalle on Feb. 27. The event, intended to celebrate the diversity of CU Denver’s campus and students, featured various performances and activities spearheaded by CU Denver students.

According to the university’s website, “58 percent of incoming freshmen in the Fall 2016 semester were students of color.” The campus  is proud of its increase in diversity with international students and students coming from a myriad of backgrounds. Four years ago, the university started working with MyLynx student organizations such as the Student Government Association (SGA) to put together the Cultural Diversity Festival. They wanted a way to educate their peers about cultures throughout the world, and the event became  the perfect way of bringing students together for immersion, education, and celebration.

Upon entering the event, each student received a piece of paper with a list of participating student organizations. Attendees were asked to visit at least five of the various tables scattered throughout the Turnhalle and learn about the related organization.

Students representing each organization were ready to answer any questions regarding what they do. Among those contributing in the event were organizations like PAL, Association for International Students, Multi-Racial Bi-Racial Student Alliance, Center for Identity and Inclusion, CU Dreamers, and more. Juliana Arevalo-Mejia, a member of SGA, is a first-year student at CU Denver who was very excited to participate in coordinating the event.

“We wanted to represent all of the international and diverse students,” Arevalo-Mejia said. “We want students to be aware of the world and the beautiful cultures. That’s one of the things that CU Denver is very proud of; we differentiate ourselves for that. This [event] is to show how big the diversity is.”

After visiting student organizations, students received a sticker next to the corresponding organization listed on the paper they initially received. Once they accumulated five stars,  students were allowed on the second floor of  the Turnhalle, where they were able to choose between a free plate of traditional Indian, Spanish, or Thai food. The Cultural Diversity Festival was not only a great opportunity to learn about other cultures through student organizations, but a wonderful way to try food from different cultures for free.

Along with the resources and student organizations attendees had access to, there were many arts and crafts that represented a span of different cultures including lantern painting, origami folding, henna, and creating silletas. Students were invited to sit down at the crafts table and read the history of how the craft came to be so important to its corresponding culture.

Silletas are from Medellin, which is the second largest city in Columbia. Silletas are flowers made from Silleteros—flower vendors who carry their colorful wares down from small plots in the mountains around Medellin to sell in the market squares. Colombia is one of the world’s largest flower exporters. They hold the Medellin Flower Festival annually, and the Silleteros are the main attraction. Another table had henna tattoos provided by Leah Reddell, who is an internationally recognized henna artist.

“We were happy to come here and participate in this event,” Reddell said. “I think it’s important for students to understand cultures a little more. This is a really cool way of doing it. It’s also just fun to see college kids relax and forget their studies for a little bit.” 

On the Turnhalle stage, there were dancers that represented Polynesian, Native American, and Brazilian cultures and more. Two young women performed a traditional Polynesian dance. The duo wore long, silk shirts with a belt of leaves around their hips, along with a plain black top that was accented with a white shell and beaded necklace. The clothing was clearly intended to emphasize the dancer’s hips and lower body.

“Polynesian stories are traditionally told through their movement of the body, especially the hips,” the female dancer said. After dancing to two songs, they asked for volunteers from the crowd to learn how to perform the traditional dance.

Following their performance were Native American dancers performing a social celebration dance. An elder woman, who was the leader of the Native American singing and drumming, announced, “This first dance will be a war dance that originated with the Plains Indians. The purpose of this dance is to stir emotions and fill the braves (male warriors) with a sense of purpose as they prepare for battle.”

With a strong, simple beat, the elder began the song as a man dressed as the Native American version of an eagle takes the stage.

“Now we have a second song for you that my daughter is going to perform,” the elder said after the war dance. “It is a swan dance that gives thanks to the creator and for people to be appreciative of what one has.” Her daughter graced the stage with the drums playing a much softer beat than before. In a bright pink shirt and dress, the daughter twirled around the stage with her arms spread wide. The fringe from her shawl lifted as she spun, making her look like a swan taking off for flight.

Succeeding the Native American performers was a Brazilian dancer that had two drummers playing traditional Brazilian repinique drums. They performed the Samba—traditional carnival rhythms that Brazil is known for. Dressed in all white (a symbol of good luck in Brazilian culture) the lead dancer performed with simplistic and repetitive movements that were infused with the festive drum beats.

The Cultural Diversity Festival was, once again, a success. Attendees had the opportunity to give feedback on a survey that asked what they enjoyed at the event and what could be improved for next year. Along with turning in the survey, students received a free goodie bag to take home.

CU Denver’s Cultural Diversity Festival is one school event that should not be missed. There are a multitude of opportunities to meet student organizations and those involved in them, and to see beautiful dancers representing countries from all around the world. Students are also able to take a break from their hectic school schedules and learn to make an origami crane or receive a henna tattoo. Next year’s Cultural Diversity Festival is another opportunity to gain exposure to the beautifully diverse world that is right here at CU Denver.

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