Students lead charge on St. Michael’s first DEI week

From left to right: Isabella Cronin ’25, Yara Qashou, ’25, Dina Alsaffar, Professor Trish Siphon speaking on the lack of period products women in Palestine experience during the panel on Tuesday. PHOTO BY NORAH BECKWITH

Aurora York | Executive Editor |

For most events on campus, there is a large team working for weeks behind the scenes. But for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) week, a new event at St. Michael’s, the charge was led by two involved students. In collaboration with the new Center for Equity and Justice led by Omara Rivera-Vasquez, DEI week was a short turnaround with noteworthy results. 

“The new director of the Center for Equity and Justice, Omara Rivera-Vasquez  came in at the end of last semester and as soon as the spring semester started we were like banging on her door,” said Dakota Thomas, ’24, current Student Government Association (SGA) president and co-programmer for DEI week. “It’s proven that you don’t need six months of committees and talking about stuff, you can get together and decide what you want to do and get it done,” Thomas said. 

Jarrett Sweet, ’25,the current SGA secretary of DEI  and president-elect of SGA for the 2024-2025 school year also helped plan the week along with Thomas and Rivera-Vasquez. The planning started at the beginning of January, leaving them roughly two months to coordinate. His main goal for DEI week was to inspire action. “I want students to engage and start to have conversations from hearing these talks and attending these events,” Sweet said. 

Although most of the events were created for the purpose of DEI week, with the help of other clubs and groups on campus, Thomas said that they were able to include some previously scheduled events, such as the Financial Literacy series.

DEI week ran from April 1- 5 and each day had a different focus on something that relates to issues of DEI. Monday, which focused on DEI in higher education, featured an opening ceremony and keynote ceremony by Dr. Margaret Bass titled “Why We Can’t Wait… The Fierce Need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Higher Education.”

Tuesday focused on social justice and race, and featured “The Importance of Language Justice in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”, a discussion panel with the Anti-Racism Coalition (ARC), and a panel on women’s suffering in Gaza during the current occupation: “Women Under Occupation in Palestine: Shedding Light on Gendered Suffering.”

During all of these events, the atmosphere was solemn yet respectful. The talk on women’s experience under occupation focused on gendered and racial injustice, two aspects of DEI. At the beginning of the panel, Allison Petrozzo, ’24 a student employee at the Center for Women and Gender brought the audience some perspective. “Remember the privilege we have to turn away when things feel too heavy,” Petrozzo said.

Wednesday explored economic inequality, with the Edmundites sharing their perspective. Thomas said it was important to include the Edmundites. The Rev. David Cray and the Rev. David Theroux were invited to discuss DEI with a panel “Reflections on Black Ministry”. Thomas said it made sense since their Catholic principles are what our St. Michael’s is founded on. “We hear all this talk about Catholic Social Justice, but what does that look like? All of the Edmundites on campus have done all this work down south and have actual experience with diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Thomas said. 

The day also included an event on housing, and a financial literacy series that discussed loans. The night ended with a period poverty fundraiser led by Amy Hylen and Catherine Wennerstrom benefiting Not a Luxury, Inc, a nonprofit organization that provides period products to those who need them. Emma Anderson ’25, the founder of this organization, gave a short talk in the middle of the trivia session, announcing the cause behind the fundraiser and what they are hoping to accomplish in the coming year. 

Thursday’s events were canceled due to inclement weather, with the day’s lineup highlighting Disability and Global Awareness.  The majority of these events are not yet rescheduled, but a book talk by adjunct Professor Sefakor G.M.A Komoby Pomeyie titled “I’m Able: A Woman’s Advice for Disability Agents” was rescheduled for Wednesday, April 10. The other events, an adaptive sport event with Professor Patrick Standen, and a second annual Global Issues lecture featuring Amy Hepburn, an expert on social impact are still waiting for new dates and times.

 Standen, who is leading the adaptive sport event, said that last year they had a similar event that included wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball that went well. This year he expects it to be similarly engaging. “The goal is just to introduce students to this other way of engaging the world through sport and recreation and vitality is important because disability issues are often left off the table or forgotten about,” Standen said. He hopes that by students engaging in these events they can broaden their perspective on navigating the world.

DEI week came to an end with LGBTQIA awareness. Friday included a Transgender Rights and Gender Equity in Athletics talk. The finale was a drag show, which also kicked off Friday Knight Dry. Common Ground, Green-Up, Drama Club and DEI week all helped to plan set-up this event, which included local drag queens and kings as well as student performers. The show saw glitter tossing, pole dancing, and burlesque as well as students clapping and cheering throughout the performances. 

Throughout the week, all of the events, different clubs, programs, and professors showcased aspects of DEI. Omara Rivera-Vasquez said this is just the beginning. “I hope that students will come to me and tell me what they want, and make DEI something that they can be proud of,” Rivera-Vasquez said. 

As president elect of SGA, Sweet is already planning for it to be annual. Rivera-Vasquez also wants it to be a more involved activity. “Maybe in the future planning it won’t have to be a two-person effort,” Rivera-Vasqueez.