By Shannon E. Brewer '03
When students arrive on campus in the fall they have the opportunity to sign up for a number of clubs that promote just about any interest. From figure skating to Circle K, all the bases are covered. So are many world cultures and languages. Many student clubs are working to embrace and raise awareness of other cultures. The traditions they celebrate span the globe and the topics they cover range from immigration to Chinese New Year. According to Larisa Olin Ortiz, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, these student clubs are not just pastimes. They play an important role in campus life and in students’ professional and personal development. “This is an increasingly diverse world and workforce,” she says. “If you are not knowledgeable or exposed to other views, you won’t be ready to succeed or compete in an environment in which young professionals are expected to be able to work with diverse populations.”
Students involved in clubs with a multicultural focus find many leadership opportunities and chances to improve their communication skills, among other benefits, says Kirsten Siron, director of student involvement and advisor to several student organizations. “They provide education outside of the traditional classroom,” she explains.
Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Johnson agrees. “When students are in leadership positions they have the ability to influence the decisions made and directions taken by their peers. At Saint Mary’s College our students are leading the way in diversifying the campus. They realize its importance to the future of Saint Mary’s,” says Johnson.
Students in these roles are bringing many first-time events to campus through their clubs. They are sponsoring lectures, raising funds for related causes, and hosting poetry readings and film series. Students interested in an underrepresented culture have often started their own club.
Below are the clubs that represent a culture of awareness on campus, along with the students who lead, organize, and support them.
around the world club
In 2000, a group of international students founded Around the World to support Saint Mary’s students from other countries. As its membership has transformed through the years, so has the club’s mission. Around the World members now focus on recruiting a greater number of international students, while bringing attention to issues faced in other parts of the world.
“This year we decided to incorporate two components which would allow students to learn about different countries’ social, cultural, and political issues,” says Anita Maria Moo ’08, Around the World president. The club sponsors the Pen Pal Program and the Model UN program. Students can choose pen pals from across Asia, Europe, and in South Africa, with the goal of learning about another culture while encouraging them to consider Saint Mary’s.
“Around the World realizes the importance of culture and different forms of expression. Therefore, in order to embrace these differences, our goal is to give the students of Saint Mary’s College education and experiences on various international perspectives. With this goal, Around the World hopes to show the importance of living in a world without boundaries.”
—Anita Maria Moo ’08, president
irish dance club
Members of the Irish Dance Club hold service and learning dear to their hearts. Combine that with knowledge of the Irish culture and being part of this group makes for a dynamic experience. “Our purpose is to introduce people to Irish dance as a way to have fun and to explore the Irish culture in a fun and interactive way,” says club president Kristin Hingstrum ’09.
Interaction is the key. The members are a group of trained Irish dancers who make a point of sharing new steps with each other so all members can build on their skills and, in turn, share them with others. The club is closely connected to the Dance Department at Saint Mary’s, and is involved with the surrounding community. The dancers have performed at Healthwin, a long-term care facility, and have raised money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
“We integrate traditional styles with contemporary movement, focusing on both technique and expression. It is of great importance that teaching and learning are part of our club.”
—Kristin Hingstrum ’09, President
sisters of nefertiti
LaQuay Boone ’10, president of Sisters of Nefertiti
“The purpose of Sisters of Nefertiti is to teach others about the culture of African Americans while celebrating our history,” explains club president LaQuay Boone ’10. Boone and other students in Sisters of Nefertiti work hard to “shine the light” on important achievements in African American history, as well as celebrate the culture as it is today. “We are also here to embrace all cultures on campus,” says Boone.
This spring Sisters of Nefertiti worked with the Office of Multicultural Affairs to examine Civil Rights history during Black History Month. They showed the film “February One,” which gives a firsthand account of the Greensboro Four and the famous Woolworth lunch counter sit-in. The group works with other campus clubs to sponsor events that open discussions about diversity, race, and ethnicity.
“As a more diverse society today, we share in different cultures and experiences that we would not have been allowed to in past years. This is an improvement for all people, not just African Americans.”
—LaQuay Boone ’10, president
Chrissy Romo ’09, co-president of La Fuerza
La Fuerza members like to let loose with the fun music, dance, and food of the Latina culture. They sponsor evening events like Salsa Night and Te Amo Peru. But the club’s main focus is on bringing the bigger issues of Latina culture to the attention of their fellow students. During this year’s Week of Action, La Fuerza members planned several activities that sparked prayerful discussions of immigration issues.
“La Fuerza promotes student involvement in the issues that concern the organization through multiple activities such as panels and forums,” says club president Chrissy Romo ’09. La Fuerza’s events educate students on the customs of Latin cultures and the issues facing them today, says Romo.
“La Fuerza’s mission as an organization is to educate the Saint Mary’s community on the many Hispanic cultures, as well as act as a support system for our fellow sisters throughout the Latina culture.”
—Chrissy Romo ’09, president
In addition to supporting the Rome Program by encouraging students to consider study abroad, the Italian Club serves students through its many events. “The club’s mission was the dissemination of Italian and Italian American culture through film, lectures, and Italian meals,” says Italian professor and club advisor Nancy D’Antuono. These events make for great learning experiences outside the classroom.
The Club has served the Department of Modern Languages at Saint Mary’s in significant ways. The club members of 2005 and 2006 lobbied for the addition of an Italian major at the College. This year, seven students graduated in the major. The club also provides Italian tutoring. Students and professors alike share the authentic Italian meals prepared twice a semester by—who else?—Professor D’Antuono.
“[The Italian Club] introduces many students to this wonderful culture and encourages them to study in Rome and experience it firsthand—and this enthusiasm is especially important with the recent addition of the Italian major.”
—Christina Palella ’08, co-president
“One of our signature events is our Italian dinners in which I hear students say ‘oh, I haven’t had pasta like this since I was in Rome!’ It’s really rewarding to share the Italian culture with professors and students and to witness the impact and transformation it has on students.”
—Giuliangela Rosato ’08, co-president
africa faith and justice network
According to president Meagan Walerko ’08, “AFJN is inspired by the Gospel and informed by Catholic social teaching, and it educates and advocates for just relations with Africa.”
The club sponsors petitions to bring issues in Africa to the attention of U.S. political leaders. The group hosts film nights, including a showing of the style documentary Invisible Children, about the “Night Walkers” in Northern Uganda. AFJN’s focus is raising awareness through events like “Africa Week,” guest speakers from the continent, and even a dance performance by Rwandan refugees.
“We try to get our message out by focusing on the issues that face the people of Africa. As a club on campus, we try to bring awareness to the students on the many different issues and through that, we promote advocacy and a call for change.”
—Meagan Walerko ’08, president
Cara Grabowski ’09, president of Spanish Club
Spanish Club activities offer students a chance to use their language skills outside of the classroom, vice-president Sam Wittenberg ’08 says. “Whether it’s using your Spanish at a dinner with the faculty, going to see a foreign film, or tutoring other students, there are ways to get involved no matter what your level of Spanish is.”
Club members hold events that showcase Spanish culture, from films and music to poetry readings. Their goals are to provide activities for students that are both fun and educational, to promote the Spanish major, and to promote the study abroad program in Seville, Spain. The 20 or so members sponsored events during this year’s Modern Language Week, including a poetry reading by Venezuelan poet Yanira Paz.
“One of my favorite annual events for Spanish Club is the pre-departure meetings for the students headed to Seville the following semester. It’s a great time for my friends and me and others who have studied there to reminisce about our experiences, as well as share our advice and put the fears and nervousness of the students at ease.”
—Cara Grabowski ’08, president
Sarah Davenport ’09, president of German Club
Sarah Davenport founded the German Club after her return from Innsbruck, Austria. She found herself tutoring other students in her dorm room and encouraging them to consider studying abroad in this yearlong German language immersion program. “Over the course of the year we have participated in the different events that Notre Dame’s German Club has hosted, as well as hosting our own regular meetings where there is German tutoring,” says Davenport.
The German Club members, six of whom will be studying in Innsbruck next year, are already planning the next school year’s activities. Food is an integral part of all cultures and Davenport is planning a dessert night around Christmastime, when students will bake and share tasty German and Austrian treats.
“After coming back from being abroad, I wanted to share my experience with the first year students and help them in any way I could if they wanted to go abroad. They ended up coming to my room for tutoring, as well as general information on the logistics of going abroad and how they could make it work for their own [major] program. This was kind of the founding of the German Club.”
—Sarah Davenport ’09, president
Grace Lynch ’08, president of Club Irish
Officially up and running since August 2007, Club Irish already has 30 active members intent on celebrating and enjoying the Irish culture. The club is also a vehicle to welcome back students who have returned from a semester or year in Saint Mary’s Ireland Program. “After being completely immersed in a culture for a year, it is difficult to leave it all behind,” says Club Irish President Grace Lynch ’08. This vibrant club has sponsored many events, including Irish Day on campus when the Irish culture took over in the dining hall with Irish music, food, and dancing. Club members have received Irish language lessons from Notre Dame professors, and Irish dance lessons. A soon-to-be annual event is a trip to Chicago’s Gaelic Park for a performance of the play Christmas in Kerry.
“Club Irish is an excellent outlet for celebrating and enjoying the Irish culture that so many of us have grown to love. Groups like Club Irish are important to Saint Mary’s because they allow students to appreciate and participate in the College’s focus on intercultural studies in a social environment.”
—Grace Lynch ’08, president
Mariam Eskander ’09, co-president of Al-Zahra
Last year two students who noticed they had the same name, Mariam, met and shared an idea to start a club focused on the cultures of the Middle East and North Africa. Mariam Eskander ’09 and Mariam Masri ’10 launched Al-Zahra. Masri came up with the club’s name, which means “the flower.” She says, “The symbolism behind it represents the planting of a seed (knowledge) and with love and nurturance, that seed would develop into a beautiful flower (awareness and acceptance).”
Mariam Masri ’10, co-president of Al-Zahra
Together, Al-Zahra members sponsor campus activities to give fellow students an understanding of this part of the world. For their first event, Al-Zahra invited a speaker from the community to present on “Ramadan: The Holy Month.” In addition to other events, the group has also hosted a “Tour of the Middle East.” Students researched various countries in the region and led workshops based on their findings.
“Through our unique events, Al-Zahra gives students the opportunity to embrace the Middle Eastern/North African culture in fun and exciting ways!”
—Mariam Eskander ’09, co-president
“The purpose of the club is to promote cultural awareness of the Middle East and North Africa. We want people to be able to immerse themselves in a different cultural experience by listening to the music, sampling food, discussing poetry…”
—Mariam Masri ’10, co-president