On Oct. 14 in front of the Sojourner Truth Library, the Scholarship Mentorship Program (SMP) held the “Sound Your Truth” event. The student-led event consisted of 37 designated speakers who, as a community, shared their individual thoughts about being part of a minority through speeches, original poems, song, dance, or presenting original artwork.
The SMP was founded by the Black Studies Department in New Paltz to address the educational disparities of historically underrepresented SUNY New Paltz students. SMP develops a community of scholars and leaders from different cultures who celebrate academic achievement. The goal of the program is to cultivate an inclusive campus. The event was developed around the ancient Greek word “parrhesia,” which means “boldness through freedom of speech.” Through this, SMP gives students an opportunity to freely “sound their truth.”
One of the speakers, second-year mechanical engineering major Justin Gonzalez, spoke about experiences back home in New York City that made him fearful of coming to a predominately white school (PWI). He expressed in his speech how he felt intimidated when applying to the school, especially in the year 2020, because the year was filled with social movements following the death of George Floyd and further police brutality. However, when he came across the SMP, he felt safe and part of something meaningful.
Gonzalez said, “All minority groups, anyone could join the program. We basically talk about stuff that’s going on whether it’s back in the city or here as well.”
Students of all ages were present, along with many faculty members. Associate professor of the photography program, Andrea Frank helped plan the event. “None of this would be here without our students,” she said. She explained that the purpose of “Sound Your Truth” was to allow students a way to express themselves through their ethnic identities. “It gives students a way to speak up, to speak in their own way, thinking about what it means to emerge in times of crisis as a community, collaboratively responding to urgent matters.”
Professor Frank had also mentioned this event was not only for students from New Paltz, but for students from Newburgh who had their art on display. The event encouraged participants to listen and understand one another, and a QR code in the shape of ears was provided for closed captioning of the speakers. In addition, the event also provided food from different cultures, such as Mexican food.
The event had an extensive amount of artwork that was displayed on a long sheet of paper spread across the entire area that students were allowed to draw on. Students from the school’s Design Form classes had created banners which they hung up on clothing lines, surrounding the perimeter of the event. Students in the Intro to Art course displayed work such as prayer and messenger flags. There was also a large sandpit where you could answer the question “What is enlightenment to you?”
Participants responded to this by burying their responses in the sand, or could create their own questions for others to reflect on.
Other students expressed that the focus of the event was to highlight underrepresented voices on campus. Second year art education major Haley Alaia explained, “It’s an event for oppressed and marginalized voices on campus that tries to highlight the fact that we have so many people of color that go here, but never listen to what they have to say.”