BY ANNA KANE ’20
Mount Holyoke’s annual Building On Our Momentum Learning Conference (BOOM!) is moving into its second year, with plenty of planned changes from last year’s event. Branded as a conference built “by members of the community for members of the community” by administrators, BOOM! will feature events for faculty, students and staff to attend in an effort to further the College’s mission of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The BOOM! conference will take place between March 31 (TransVisibilty Day) and April 7, the date of the Women of Color Trailblazers Leadership conference (WCTLC). The events will be spread out over the course of the week. Unlike last year, no classes will be cancelled and no meal hours will be changed. Events will include arts activities, discussions, keynotes, meet-and-greets, panels, presentations and workshops. Mount Holyoke community members will have the opportunity to create an account on the Sched website (an online scheduling interface used by BOOM conference organizers) to customize their own agenda.
The inaugural BOOM! conference, which took place in March 2017, took a very different form. Instead of spreading out events over the school week, the campus community was encouraged to participate in a “day on,” which purported to make the learning of diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives on campus a priority.
According to the BOOM! announcement on the College’s website, all faculty, students and staff are expected to attend the conference, and are asked to fit it into their schedules. Attendees can collect tickets at each of the conference sessions that can be turned in at the end of the week for prizes.
“I really appreciated that the College took the time last year to talk about such important issues, but the fact that so many talks, events and panels were packed into a single day made it difficult for me to attend everything I wanted to,” said Jacqueline McIntosh ’20. “I'm excited this year for even more events that span the entire week! BOOM! has really taken off, and it's exciting to see that the College is committed to engaging in such dialogue — especially given the current political climate.”
Some of the 2018 BOOM! conference events will be similar to those of last year, including “Students of Color in the Sciences at Mount Holyoke: A Conversation for Students, Faculty and Staff in STEM Fields,” “The Frances Perkins Monologues” and “Examining Privilege.”
The 2017 BOOM! conference garnered a great deal of feedback that the administration took into account while planning for this year. Feedback ranged from workshop content, the conference overall and ideas for future directions.
“The workshops being offered again were the most popular workshops [last year], where people weren’t even able to get spots in because there were limited seats,” said Dean of Students Marcella Runell Hall.
“I really love this approach to education, that it’s generative and we’re coming together and coming up with new ideas together as a community,” Hall added.
“One of the most interesting parts I remember [last year] was that at one session, a girl had mentioned that before coming to Mount Holyoke, she had never met a person of color before. That really stuck with me,” said Hannah Finn-Herb ’20. “I went to a session last year called ‘Unpacking Whiteness,’ but I found it very disappointing because it seemed to just be white people talking about their privilege but not about how to be an ally.”
New events this year will include speakers from the College, such as Dean Hall, and outside of the College, including WCTLC keynote speakers Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour, the leaders of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington. Yarimar Bonilla, associate professor of anthropology and Caribbean studies at Rutgers University, will present “The Wait of Disaster: Hurricanes and the Politics of Recovery of Puerto Rico.” Several workshops will also be provided for faculty members, including “Identity and Inclusivity in the Classroom,” presented by the Posse Foundation.
A keynote lecture scheduled for April 3 at 4:30 p.m. will feature Brittney Cooper, author of the new critically acclaimed book, “Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower.” Cooper is an associate professor of women’s studies, gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University. She is also the co-founder of Crunk Feminist Collective blog, which aims to create community between feminists of color from intersectional backgrounds and identities.
Hall will be presenting on a new book, “Uncommon Bond,” that she co-edited with City University of New York (CUNY) Professor Kersha Smith, on April 6 at 5 p.m. in Gamble Auditorium. “Uncommon Bond” began three years ago and features essays submitted by both professional and inexperienced writers about friendship and race experienced by people who identify as women. Smith and Hall will be joined by JLove Calderon, Keisha Green, Millicent Jackson and Imani Romney-Rosa, all of whom contributed to the book.
“The beauty of this second year is making good on the promise that this is a commitment to sustainable change and we are investing in being accountable around these initiatives,” said Hall. “The great thing is this collective realization that we did something really transformative together and a year later here we are expanding it over a longer period of time.”
The future of BOOM! is being discussed among campus officials, with an idea of setting aside time in the spring calendar for a community building day that is widely known across campus and becomes as much of a tradition as Mountain Day, according to Hall.
“I hope to see queer women of color who speak about social justice initiatives such as global warming, food justice and police violence and corruption,” said Key Estime ’20. “This type of conversation can really address the common goals that this college should be establishing in terms of diversity; diversity not only in the bodies of professors being of color, but the objectives of a liberal arts curriculum.”
McIntosh said one of the things she appreciates about the BOOM! Conference is its intersectionality. “There are talks and panels on race, gender identity and pronouns, activism and so much more,” she said. “BOOM! is a way of affirming those inclusive policies that aim to ensure everyone, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race and religion, is welcome at Mount Holyoke.”