PoetUnity: poetry and community

Hillel and Office of Multicultural Life come together to share stories through poetry

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PoetUnity, “a night of interactive poetry, music, and community,” was an in-person event hosted in tandem by the Multicultural Center and Hillel outdoors, socially distanced and on campus on Oct. 18. Students came together to drink hot chocolate, play music and share stories in the tent behind the Multicultural Center.

Kiyaana Cox Jones, Assistant Director of Multicultural Life, said the event was to “bridge the gap between Hillel and Multicultural Life. It was to start a conversation so that they could talk about the differences and honor those differences and respect those differences but also find ‘in what ways are we similar?’ And begin to build community there. Community happens when people share stories.”

“Community happens when people share stories.”

Talya Inbar, the Israel Fellow at the Leffell Center for Jewish Life, explained how the event came to be, saying, “After working at Muhlenberg for 2 years, I felt that there is a need to expand the individual communities on campus. My first thought was the Multicultural Center, because of the way it provides and supports many different students… Creating a space that allows exploring, expressing and sharing would be the best way to connect between communities.”

Renee Levine ‘22 was one of the hosts of the event, playing guitar alongside Richeta Cubano ‘24, who shared spoken word poetry. A period of silence then occurred for students to write their own stories and ideas. Later, the floor was opened up to the attendees of the event to share poetry they had written.

Levine said, “This event, to me, symbolized the unity of different cultures and different communities that exist not only in our world and in our society but also on Muhlenberg‘s college campus. This event used the beauty of poetry, the creativity of writing and music as the vehicle to tell the stories of our backgrounds and personal history and to unite different students from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures.” 

Cubano said, “PoetUnity was an event to help people like me find a platform to share the pieces they have always hidden in their hearts, or in the physical whether that be their phone or a journal.”

Vulnerability was one of the core themes of the event. Cubano said, “I hosted the event and made sure I set an example of vulnerability to create a safe atmosphere for anyone else who had burdening stories they wanted to release.”

“The students were so vulnerable and so willing to let other people in that they shared parts of themselves that they may not have normally shared in other spaces, and I thought that that was just beautiful,” said Cox Jones. “It transformed the space, it shifted the space and allowed for a spirit of unity and community to be available in that space, to live in that space… The more stories were shared, it showed.. that there are similarities. We all have been ostracized, we all have been left out.”

“This event made me feel welcomed and embraced for the person that I am, not simply the box that I check off on an application or health form.”

Levine spoke about her personal connection to the event, saying, “This event was extremely personal and special for me to participate in. I am a Latina, white, and Jewish woman, and conceptualizing my identity has something that has been a struggle and a journey for me. This event made me feel welcomed and embraced for the person that I am, not simply the box that I check off on an application or health form. I was seen and supported for my story and for my vulnerability in sharing my music. It was so incredible to feel the support from those with completely different backgrounds, religions, cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, as myself.”

Hillel and Multicultural Life staff alike were unsure about how the event would go, but they were successful in creating the space they were aiming for.

“I think it went really great, it actually exceeded my expectations,” said Cox Jones. “The students were so connected. They shared in ways I wanted them to, but I wasn’t sure if they were going to.”

Inbar said, “It went amazing, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to create the right space for our students. With the help of student leaders from both communities we were able to create a special environment that allowed empowering and honest conversation.”

Students also felt that the event went well and spoke excitedly of attending similar events in the future.

Cubano said, “The event was amazing, not only did I realize others and their creativity but I realized that I am not alone in my heartbreak or emotional struggles… I would definitely go to an event like this again. I always wanted a free and safe space to share pieces I had in my phone.  I never thought they would ever come to light, but boom, they did.”

“With the help of student leaders from both communities we were able to create a special environment that allowed empowering and honest conversation.”

Levine echoed this sentiment, saying, “This was an unbelievable experience, and I cannot fathom into words the loving energy that was present at PoetUnity… I would be so eager and excited to attend another event, and I hope to see a virtual version of poet unity, and hopefully an in person PoetUnity event with more individuals (all of course in-line with COVID safety guidelines)… I hope individuals will attend this event in the future.”

Inbar and Cox Jones said to look out for events like PoetUnity in the future.

Cox Jones said, “The goal next semester is to do it again in person, but also to do it online so that more people can join [and] we can have some more singing… I think that having the guitar and the instrumental and the connection between our two hosts, Renee and Richeta was beautiful. Music speaks a language that crosses racial barriers, music speaks to everyone. It’s the one thing that can be common, that doesn’t have to have a stereotype attached to it. So yes, we will be doing it again so that way we can continue to empower students to create community. Speak your truth, tell your stories, share your stories, and there you’ll find restoration amongst your communities.”

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