Unity among different groups of people has always been a struggle in the United States, according to slam poet and spoken-word performer Mariah Ivey. Ivey, along with several others, spoke at the first Unity march to take place at the University of Indianapolis on March 26. The Unity March was an effort by several on-campus organizations to bring people from different cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities together so they might better understand one another. One of the main points of the event brought up by UIndy President Rob Manuel during his opening speech, was that just because UIndy is diverse does not mean that it is always unified. Graduate student in political science Sigi Ferguson found this to be one of the most important points of the entire event.
“We [UIndy] have a lot of diversity, but there is a lot fragmentation within that,” Ferguson said. “Although there is a lot of diversity and a lot of diverse communities, they are not necessarily working together to promote unity.”
Sophomore religion and applied psychology major Natalie Benson had a hand in organizing the Unity March. Planning for the event started in February after junior political science and international relations major Tosin Salau along with other members of the Muslim Students Union, brought concerns to Interfaith and Kory Vitangeli about the current political climate in the United States and how it could affect the unity of students at UIndy, according to Benson. Salau said that the Unity March was proposed after executive orders from the Trump administration banned entry into the United States from several predominantly Muslim countries.
“The university gave out a statement [in response to the travel ban], and normally when they give out a statement, there is some kind of stance on it,” Salau said. “‘But that statement did not do any of that. It was literally just a statement of facts, which kind of bothered me.”
The groups involved with the Unity March included the Indianapolis Student Government, Muslim Student Union, Black Student Association, Interfaith Scholars and Honors Student Association. The Unity March took place in the atrium of Schwitzer, and although the event was titled “Unity March,” the actual march was canceled due to rain. However, the rain was not enough to deter the speakers from sharing their stories with the audience.
The event opened with Salau introducing Manuel to the stage. Manuel highlighted the importance of students educating themselves about the cultures and experiences of others at UIndy and in the community. Three student speakers followed Manuel: senior biology major Rolando Mendoza, junior international business and Spanish major Leekshika Pinnamneni and sophomore political science major Aml Alkatib. The students spoke about their personal stories as immigrants, children of immigrants, religious minorities or other minorities within the United States. Afterwards, Ivey gave a short speech and performed two of her spoken-word poems to the audience.
“The Unity March is important because it is a part of direct action,” Ivey said. “I think it is a start. It is a beginning to something much larger. But if you can get people to come together, get on the same page and understand, then you are starting. I hope that they [students and faculty] will get the significance of unity, of revolution. Unity is a very broad term, but I’m hoping that everyone will understand the importance of it and their role. Everyone has a role in this whole thing. It’s about taking ego out of the picture, pride out of the picture, and understanding that as humans that should be the first thing: humanity coming together.”
Associate Professor of Education Terrence Harewood was the last of the speakers for the afternoon. He emphasized that students and faculty should get to know one another, and what each person’s story and situation is, to better relate and understand one another. Junior biology major and BSA President Melina Hale closed the Unity March with the chants that had been planned for the actual march outside.
According to Ivey, the Unity March is a step in the right direction for places that do not usually have similar discussions.
“It [unity marches and rallies] will help in spaces where it does not happen,” Ivey said. “Conversations, panel discussions and things like this are not always helpful. When they are done often, they can become redundant. When they are done in spaces where they have been done often, then you are kind of preaching to the choir. But in spaces where people are ignorant to the things that are going on, they are extremely important.”