“A week of sex and gender positive talk that engages students on campus” – this is how Spectrum President Tim Yaczo described the group’s ninth annual Awareness Week, which takes place through Friday. Spectrum is Miami University’s queer/straight alliance.
The week opened Monday night with a performance by Tim’m West, a self-described black, queer, feminist, slam poet and hip-hop artist currently living in Washington D.C.
Instead of talking about what he does, West painted his picture of what society should be in his poetry set to music.
“We’ve got to refine and redesign lines to include more people because we’re all equal,” West said during his presentation. “We know we deserve better and we won’t settle for less than that.”
During his performance, West called for people to stop judging others and focus on creating a positive revolution in society.
“Stop trying to sing my blues when it’s your song that’s outta tune,” West said. “It’s been a long time comin’ but I know change gonna come.”
West also said it was up to each individual person to take charge of his or her own destiny.
“Gotta spread your wings and fly away so free, whoever, whenever, whoever you want to be,” West said.
During a question and answer session at the end, West said he felt it was especially important for him to come to Miami’s campus.
“I attended a very non- (queer) supportive campus and I was among the few gays and lesbians trying to organize,” West said. “It’s been a personal dedication of mine to reach out to campuses like mine and give students the inspiration they need to create more inclusive settings.”
West also said he enjoys performing his own brand of hip-hop music.
“I like doing queer hip-hop because there’s a lot of topics that haven’t been explored,” West said. “There’s a boundary that people police around hip-hop that you have to be a certain ‘authentic’ way and I’m glad I can push those boundaries.”
Before he took the stage, local spoken word artist Emily Smith – “Start” – opened with four of her original poems about her life as a lesbian, what it’s like living in Cincinnati and her thoughts on gay marriage.
After Start came Baraka Noel, also a spoken word artist from Silver Spring, Md. His poetry was more political than West’s and focused on issues of racism and hatred throughout the United States.
“Racism tears you up but remains unspoken until the one right that remains is the right to be silent,” Noel said during his presentation. “Only anger causes revolution, I guarantee if you don’t use your voice you’re gonna loose it.”
His poetry wasn’t completely negative; it also carried a message of hope for the future.
“When you’re in tune with the universe it’s you that you find (and) when you live for love man it changes what you can expect,” Noel said. “We ain’t rich but we holdin’ on, throw your hand in the air, sing along if you know the song.”
Sophomore women’s studies major Jamie Viars said the performance was beneficial, but it didn’t reach enough people.
“We definitely need this, the problem with awareness events is that the people who need to hear this didn’t come,” Viars said. “I’m not trying to discredit this event, but the people who needed to be here just weren’t here.”
Sophomore biochemistry major Brittany Boggs said it was good to hear material presented in a different way.
“I thought it was great that people presented the information in a different form,” Boggs said. “Spoken word and music appeal to college students on a very basic level and it was good to see it.”
Junior American studies major Greg Claus, this year’s Awareness Week chair, said a week like this helps create a more inclusive climate on campus.
“It is our goal by raising awareness of issues facing the queer community on Miami’s campus we can foster dialogue that will embrace and encourage diversity,” Claus said. “(At Miami) change usually happens from the top down, but this is our chance to create change from the bottom up.”
Although this was Claus’ first time as Awareness Week chair, the week holds special meaning for him.
“(When I first got here) I was not out on campus and among other things I was inspired by the stories that occurred during Awareness Week 2005 (because) they helped me embrace my own identity as a gay man,” Claus said. “Two years after coming out, my close friends and family help support me, but I still feel there is a need for a systemic campus-wide change in climate.”
Richard Nault, vice president for student affairs, said Awareness Week is especially important and very much needed at Miami.
“I feel very strongly that all students should feel welcome on Miami’s campus, and that includes gays and lesbians,” Nault said. “Many times society says gays and lesbians should be invisible, but there is no reason for them to be invisible on this campus.”
Claus said this year Spectrum collaborated with many campus organizations to create even more of an impact.
“We received support from campus leaders and because of that we were able to bring in an array of diverse intellectuals, performers and pop media icons,” Claus said.
Nault said he welcomes this week on campus.
“This week specifically says that gays and lesbians are part of our community and they should have every opportunity to bring in serious or non-serious acts to reflect their experiences,” Nault said. “I applaud Spectrum for increasing the awareness of gays and lesbians and educating non-gays and lesbians on this campus about diversity topics.”