Uniquely Connected & Thriving Together at Dietrich CollegeIn This Issue: A Message from Richard Scheines | Asian Boss Girl Event | Microvalidations: Heitho Shipp | Small Businesses at CMU | Perspectives: Uncertain Times in the United States | Poetry Selections
Bess Family Dean
Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Welcome back to The Garden, Dietrich College's Diversity and Inclusion Newsletter! The Garden highlights individual contributions towards building a just, equitable, and inclusive community. I encourage you to read Volume 4, which contains compelling stories on student advocacy, research, social entrepreneurship, conversations with Professor Kenya Dworkin and rising sophomore Sheldon Yawson, and moving poetry.
I am grateful to Ayana Ledford and Catherine Taipe for putting it together, and for everyone who contributes to it or reads it. Building a community invested in diversity, equity, and inclusion is crucial to our success, and it requires everyone’s participation.
As your Dean, I commit to finding the resources to support the concrete actions included in our diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan, which will be shared with our community in September. Some highlights in the strategic plan include: improving faculty hiring and retention practices, creating a committee to provide oversight and transparency, investing in students from the Pittsburgh community, recognizing contributions made by our dedicated staff, and much more! Early this academic year, I will call upon our community to help us prioritize the recommendations. Jason England, Stacy Kish, Anne Lambright, and Ayana Ledford will host community feedback sessions in September. Please watch for invitations later this month to attend these sessions.
Thank you, again, for your continuous feedback and encouragement to do better in building an inclusive and welcoming Dietrich College community!
Justin Wang, a rising junior studying information systems and minoring in computer science, is committed to bringing advocacy to the forefront of Carnegie Mellon’s Asian Students Association (ASA). As the organization’s vice president of events, Wang has found difficult but necessary conversations key to creating an environment within ASA and the greater CMU community that values advocacy efforts.
“The ASA Advocacy initiative is growing,” said Justin Wang. “We brought back the advocacy chair in spring 2019, and are trying to regrow this committee that we didn’t have a strong hold on before.”
Part of this progress is an upcoming virtual event with the hosts of a podcast called Asian Boss Girl (ABG). Asian Boss Girl–– a reinterpretation of the term ABG, which would otherwise mean “Asian Baby Girl” –– is hosted by three Asian American women, Melody Cheng, Helen Wu and Janet Wang. From conversations on dating culture and periods to episodes about the model minority myth and Asian allyship, ABG caters to a range of audiences by talking about many different topics.
This is exactly what Justin Wang had in mind when reaching out to the podcast hosts: “Having Asian Boss Girl speak to us is a part of creating a space for conversations important to Asian Americans and the student body.”
With the recent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with other current events, Wang recognizes the importance of emphasizing advocacy within ASA. Part of this goal has already been realized through Asian representation in different events on campus, from the Dominic “D-Trix” Sandoval event this past spring to the 2020 East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference hosted here in Pittsburgh this February.
“I’d like to establish momentum with these events,” Justin said. “ECAASU in particular presents a great opportunity for student groups from different colleges to come together as well.”
Though the event with ABG will be virtual, he still believes that the event will be exciting: “I’ve listened to a lot of the episodes, and they are really interesting! [ABG are] excited to do this engagement––above all, the podcast is what it’s all about.”
Above all, Wang expresses his gratitude to the partnerships that have made his goal of increased awareness and advocacy possible.
“The diversity and inclusion initiatives that Dietrich has, along with the help of M. Shernell Smith from the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, is truly bringing us together for the long term and keeping our organizations involved with the broader community instead of just our members.”
The virtual event is scheduled for October this year, and updates can be found on the CMU Asian Students Association’s Facebook page.
Heitho Shipp, an Alabama native studying behavioral economics and business administration, is committed to the work of diversity, equity and inclusion –– even in Carnegie Mellon research labs. With the help of Linda Babcock of our Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Shipp is finding the definition of a word and area of study still in its infancy: microvalidations.
Shipp’s research is studying microvalidations as a counter to microaggressions. Microaggressions, as defined by Merriam-Webster, are “comments or actions that unconsciously or unintentionally express prejudiced attitudes toward a member of marginalized communities.” Therefore, rather than hurt people from marginalized communities and identities, microvalidations uplift them.
“Microaggressions have been defined for a while, and there is a lot of in-depth research about it,” Heitho explains. “There are a bunch of subsets to it, like microinvalidations, microassaults, and microinsults. We’re looking at something different.”
Shipp, a rising senior, has been working on defining microvalidations since the spring semester of her sophomore year. Choosing to focus on microvalidations rather than a very similar term, microaffirmations, was a conscious decision. The latter does not focus on encouragement based on identity, while microvalidations do.
“Right now, we’re doing a lot of data collection through sit-down interviews,” Shipp says. “We’re looking at conditions when statements are microvalidations rather than compliments, as well as different characteristics and types of microvalidations.”
For now, the research is focused on the implications of microvalidations on college campuses such as our own. Shipp and her team hope that their research can be used for a comprehensive taxonomy and classification system for different types of affirmations, which can be used to develop interventions or training sessions for students, advisors, faculty and administrators.
“I chose this particular research topic because I have been entrenched in diversity theory and involved with diversity, equity and inclusion leadership since high school,” Shipp shares. “This project is part of my own natural progression. I want to make an impact on other people’s lives by making our interactions between each other more inclusive and validating.”
The second half of the spring 2020 semester presented a unique challenge for all CMU students: how can we stay connected and stay positive during a global pandemic? From meme pages to mutual aid funds, the CMU student body has contributed greatly to creating a virtual community as a way for all of us to feel united and less alone. On top of all of this, unexpected but exciting ventures came out of school in quarantine: the creation and growth of CMU-based small businesses.
The Garden was able to speak with rising senior Nicholas Marotta and rising sophomore Julia Nieto about their businesses, their motivations and the impact each business had on the greater CMU community.
Nick Marotta, School of Design Class of 2021 - The Zoom University Bookstore
Nick Marotta, a rising senior in CMU’s School of Design, created the Zoom University Bookstore with his parents days after remote learning was announced by university administrators nationwide. The way the idea came about is just as exciting as the overwhelming response his design received.
The Facebook group Zoom Memes for Self Quaranteens, created by two CMU students in response to colleges and universities shifting to remote learning, was the source of inspiration for Marotta and his family.
“I was talking to my mom about how funny the memes about attending ‘Zoom University’ were, and we thought it’d be great to make it more official with some merch,” Marotta shared. “We both agreed that if I didn’t design it right then, someone else would.”
After an all-nighter of designing a legitimate crest on Adobe Illustrator and posting the mockups onto the growing Facebook group, Nick woke up to thousands of notifications and hundreds of orders.
“I can’t believe how it took off –– we’ve sent apparel to all 50 states,” said Nick. “When I was busy with Zoom classes, my parents took on nearly all the weight of fulfilling orders.”
The Zoom University Bookstore quickly became a family-run business, with Marotta’s parents packing and filling orders daily at the online store’s peak. Even his brother, a recent college graduate, was able to help with financial analyses. It was a busy time that was greatly meaningful for Marotta and his family.
“We were all so grateful to be busy,” shared Nick. “My parents own a small video production company, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for them to work. So, the Zoom University Bookstore kept food on the table for our family of five.”
It is undeniable that the small business made an impact beyond the CMU community. With the business’s excess revenue, the Marotta family has been able to donate 10% of all the profits to the Meals on Wheels COVID-19 Response Fund, which is an effort to deliver meals to senior citizens who cannot risk a trip to the grocery store. On top of this, the small business accomplished the feat of simply making people happy during such tumultuous times.
“I think at the beginning of quarantine, everyone had so much to be upset about,” Marotta explained. “So, the merch was an extension of the feel-good memes in that they allow people to feel some ownership over the situation.”
The Zoom University Bookstore hit a special sweet spot –– it helped the Marotta family day in difficult times to survive, it helped senior citizens nationwide with groceries, and it made college students all over the country feel a little better in dark times.
“My parents and I got so many messages telling us the shirts made their day, or just thanking us for the laugh. When the shirts kind of blew up, people were posting pics in them to social media, ‘announcing’ their transfer to Zoom University. I think the humor brought everyone together because the joke at the center of it all was inherently positive.”
When thinking about the future, there is potential with the hybrid models of learning that many colleges and universities are taking. But above all, Marotta hopes for “Zoom University” to be a joke of the past.
“The store will probably stick around as long as anyone is stuck in online classes,” he reflected. “But I am seriously excited for the day that things return to normal and the Zoom University sweatshirt becomes a historical artifact.”
Julia, “Juju” Nieto, School of Drama Class of 2023 - EarringsbyCMJu
Julia Nieto is a rising sophomore studying Dramaturgy at CMU’s School of Drama. Julia, or Juju, created EarringsbyCMJu –– which is a play on her name and the letters CMU –– in fall 2019 as a way for her to make some money while in school.
The origins of her earring making craft, however, have more personal and deep meanings to Julia: family, friends and activism.
“I started making earrings my senior year of high school to raise money for a club that my friends and I started that aimed to uplift women of color,” reflected Nieto. “After so many people enjoyed our earrings in numerous events, I ended up starting to make earrings by myself and got really good at it quickly.”
Upon realizing that there was a lot of potential in earring making, Julia decided to hone her craft and use the profits toward her college applications. But over time, earring making became something that was not only profitable, but also fun and meaningful.
“I think a lot of what attracted me to start a small business is cultural,” she shared. “Growing up with the story of my immigrant grandparents coming here with nothing really pushes you to be a self-starter.”
Nieto’s parents were also a source of inspiration and encouragement. Her father owned several small businesses when he was in his late teens, while her mother has always been supportive of her entrepreneurial spirit.
“Latinos thrive on making their own way through businesses,” Julia said. “Whether I was selling cookies, vintage clothes from my mom’s old closet, or cucumbers with lemon and Tajín, my mom was always super supportive.”
Another force of Nieto’s entrepreneurial spirit is the ability to be financially independent from her family. Being able to rely on herself instead of her single mother made creating and maintaining a small business even more worth it for Nieto.
What makes Nieto’s business so successful is the unique eccentric design of her earrings. Ranging from tiny fruit, glow-in-the-dark stars, googly eyes, toy pegasus, and beaded hoops, Nieto can make just about anything into a piece of jewelry worth treasuring. However, when asked about her design process, she gives a chunk of the credit to friends in her life.
“My mindset while in high school was to use stuff that seemed like they couldn’t be earrings but were actually stunning on the ear,” Nieto shared. “It was also important that they matched my friends’ style, since they would be the ones buying them.”
Her most popular earrings, the mini tarot cards, were also based on a gift set given from a friend––all they asked was for Julia to make them a pair before using the rest for her business.
“Overall, my ideas come from my mind’s eye––but my friends have had a great impact,” Nieto said. “I feel like every piece of jewelry on my page can be tied to a friend because if they like it, why not anyone else?”
With this mindset, Julia was able to gain a small following on Carnegie Mellon’s campus in fall 2019, using the Instagram account @EarringsbyCMJu. She gained hundreds of followers throughout the semester and into the spring 2020 semester. However, with the coronavirus pandemic and remote learning put in place by March, EarringsbyCMJu was faced with new challenges.
“I expected nothing from the CMU community once remote learning started, if I’m being honest,” Nieto shared. “I expected no one to buy earrings because there’s nowhere to go and wear them! The post office wasn’t even consistently open to ship items.”
Nieto was pleasantly surprised when her small business actually received lots of support and sales during the pandemic. Earring making, which was a way for Julia to stay sane during quarantine, became a success even in difficult times.
“I really appreciated how many people showed up to support me during coronavirus,” Julia said. “I felt that each purchase was personal, even though buyers were probably just into the earrings. It is a privilege to create for the CMU community and I am so grateful.”
In late May, Julia decided it was time to give back. For a few weeks, she donated all her sales to organizations and fundraisers involving the Black Lives Matter movement. As a White Latina, she felt that it was her responsibility to support the movement along with her Black friends, family members, followers, and community members.
“For me, posting on Instagram and signing petitions was not enough,” Nieto stated. “Activism isn’t a one or done deal. I do not want to get complacent and I do not want to think I have done enough just by donating a small sum.”
Overall, EarringsbyCMJu sales were able to amass over $500 for numerous different organizations and funds, such as the Black Visions Collective, the Los Angeles Bail Fund, and the GoFundMe from the family of Breonna Taylor.
“I don’t deserve praise or a pat on the back for any of this, because it’s my responsibility,” Julia emphasized. “I hope to see people who have even more privilege than myself to do the same.”
Despite the uncertainty of the future ahead, Julia remains hopeful about the growth of EarringsbyCMJu. Hoping to make an Etsy or Depop Page, Julia wants to reach more people with her earrings. However, she appreciates the small but loyal following from her hometown and from Carnegie Mellon––above all, her business is a personal endeavor and expression of her eccentric nature and activism.
“It’s really easy to stay connected and build relationships with the people who are buying from me,” Julia explained. “So I think the next stage is to keep chugging along and see what is best. Be on the lookout for new designs and follow me!”
The past five months have been very challenging for Carnegie Mellon University and its community members. Despite every hurdle that has come our way, CMU has found a way to confront it. From having to move to remote learning back in March, to reckoning with systemic racism at CMU, a lot has happened. But how have CMU’s responses to the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other events affected real community members and their livelihoods?
The Garden had the unique opportunity to see two perspectives on this question: one from an undergraduate student, and one from a professor.
A Conversation with a Student: Sheldon Yawson, Dietrich College Class of 2023
Sheldon Yawson, a rising sophomore on a pre-law track, spoke to The Garden about the spring 2020 semester, CMU’s plan to confront racism, and the upcoming fall semester.
How was your spring semester? Do you think CMU prepared as best as they could for all students?
“The spring semester was terrible,” Yawson said. “But it was definitely not CMU’s fault. I just didn’t have the same resources at home that I had on campus.”
For Sheldon, transitioning to remote learning was far from easy. As a first generation student, she faced new challenges at home in the light of a global pandemic. Being from New York, her family faced the brunt of living in a major epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic during March and April –– a significant chunk of the semester.
“My life really shifted because everyone in my family stopped working,” shared Yawson. “We shifted to survival mode. I ended up getting a job at Amazon, which I still have until we return to campus for the fall.”
With such a labor-intensive job, going to school virtually became difficult for her. However, Yawson expressed gratitude for the help she received directly and indirectly from CMU.
“Learning without WiFi in the house was not fun,” she joked. “But luckily, CMU gave me a grant to pay for it.”
She also was thankful for the pass/fail grading policy that was introduced back in March and the overall accommodating nature of her professors.
“I think that going into the fall semester in the same format is a little troubling,” she said. “What if professors aren’t as accommodating? Will the pass/fail policy come back considering things are actually worse now?”
Despite these worries, Yawson is excited to get back on campus as an RA and be able to work with first year students.
“I am a bit anxious, since the pandemic is ongoing and things can switch up at the last minute,” she said. “But I’m glad to be back on campus because as a Black first-gen student, there are ways to get support that I wouldn’t have at home.”
What are your main takeaways from CMU’s plan to confront racism?
“I worry that CMU and other higher education institutions are being performative –– it doesn’t feel genuine,” Yawson shared. “There are baseline things that could’ve been done a while ago if CMU really cared, such as having more Black professors on campus. A lot of Black students go through all four years of college without having a single Black professor.”
A study conducted by professors Linda Babcock and Rosalind Chow in 2018 states that CMU has one of the lowest rates of underrepresented minority (URM) tenured faculty in comparison to other higher education institutions. Their study also demonstrated that despite how many URM faculty joined the CMU community since 2013, more left each year.
“I personally didn’t read the full action plan published by CMU,” Yawson shared. “At the time I was very overwhelmed, as a Black human trying to absorb everything going on.”
She reflected on the noise from not just CMU, but all kinds of companies, organizations, and celebrities saying “We stand with Black lives.” If these entities changed their profile picture and posted for #BlackoutTuesday, were they also doing the real, meaningful work of confronting systemic racism? Or were they simply performing?
“These kinds of actions add to noise while you’re trying to navigate everything going on,” Yawson said. “I do appreciate the message from President Jahanian, I just hope Black Lives Matter is not a trend for them. When everything dies down, will everything go back to how it was?”
How are you feeling about the upcoming fall semester?
“Our COVID-19 response has been pretty good. I have friends who attend universities with pandemic plans that just say ‘come back and get tested,’” Yawson replied. “I am very hopeful for the future at CMU.”
A Conversation with a Professor: Kenya Dworkin
Professor Kenya Dworkin, from Dietrich College’s Modern Languages Department, has been teaching at Carnegie Mellon since 1993. Her work involves Latin American and Hispanic Caribbean literature, history and culture, as well as U.S. Latino literature and culture and Sephardic Studies.
The transition to virtual teaching, such as the transition to virtual learning, was no easy feat for Professor Dworkin.
“We scrambled to make sure professors would stay connected and be in touch with students and their departments,” Professor Dworkin shared. “There was also the question if we were doing everything possible to keep up a certain level of commitment and work, not only from students but from us as well.”
She expressed the widely felt “Zoom fatigue” that came out after a long two months teaching virtually.
“There was pressure during the first few months of quarantine to have meetings with everyone, even with people we weren’t too close to,” Dworkin said.
Dworkin recognizes, though, that part of these excessive meetings was the need to support others and to feel supported. Despite Zoom fatigue, virtually connecting with students, colleagues, and community members has been accessible and effective thanks to the platform.
“I was grateful for the ability to still have professional and personal relationships with video meetings once or twice a week,” Dworkin said. “There was an interesting synergy and ability to brainstorm that wouldn’t have happened if we were meeting or teaching in person. Zoom certainly had its ups and downs.”
While the spring 2020 semester came to a close, the use of Zoom and other forms of virtual connection did not. Professor Dworkin, who is usually involved with nonprofit organizations including the Latin American Culture Union and a community choir, had a dramatic change of plans.
"For now, a lot of the groups I am in have chosen to spend this time to focus on the future,” Dworkin said. “The choir, which is not possible to continue right now, has mostly had social Zoom meetings. The Latin American Culture Union, on the other hand, has chosen to focus on rebuilding our organization and reorienting it.”
With her typical summer endeavors being either cancelled or different, Dworkin has found the opportunity to focus on her own scholarly work more than ever before. She has spent her summer continuing a book based on research she started in the 90s on the culture of Cuban workers in the Tampa area of Florida in the late 19th century.
“The book touches on the culture created in this community, as well as tradition involving very sensitive subjects like racial persecution and prejudice,” Dworkin explained. “I also discuss Cuban theater as a social factor, specifically about what racial impersonations say about the community.”
Professor Dworkin’s work is undeniably part of the puzzle that is anti-racist work and pedagogy. As a result of Carnegie Mellon’s reckoning with systemic racism in the light of the Black Lives Matter movement revival, Dworkin has been working on a Mini-2 course on transformative cross-cultural analysis.
“This class is part of an ongoing initiative from the Modern Language Department to make anti-racist pedagogy more prevalent,” she shared. “It is not all about race or anti-Black racism, but a focus on racism from an international perspective.”
Beyond this initiative, Dworkin expressed the desire to teach a course about Afro-Latinos and the Spanish and Portuguese speaking diaspora, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America. She has already taught research-heavy courses on Cuba and Puerto Rico, and hopes to continue that in these areas of study. This is because students are able to engage with material and concepts related to race and culture more deeply.
“The humanities should be central to anti-racist work in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at CMU,” stated Dworkin. “There is a need for humanities to play a bigger role in gen-ed classes, where critical discourse analysis or even studying foreign cultures is a possibility, but is never necessarily promoted.”
This is a difficult but necessary aspect to reckon with at CMU, a predominantly technical and hard-science based school. Are our faculty in hard-science fields able to integrate anti-racism pedagogy into their syllabi while not being experts on the subject? If not, does the weight of providing resources and guidance fall on faculty who are knowledgeable? It is hard to answer those questions right now.
“Professors have students for such a small time frame, so it’s hard to make an impact on them when teaching complex subjects, like much of anti-racist work,” Dworkin confessed. “I wish they were challenged earlier, perhaps during middle or high school. All I can do is encourage everyone to start questioning the world around them and start their own readings or podcasts.”
Unlearning racial, cultural, social and political structures is, of course, something that does not happen overnight. Professor Dworkin emphasizes the fact that everyone, at any point in their lives, is learning.
“You can’t stop learning, and sometimes you have to relearn what you learned before.”
The Garden stands with Black students, faculty, staff and community members at CMU and the greater Pittsburgh community. As a newsletter meant to amplify the voices of marginalized identities, we are committed to continuously supporting the Black community through our platform in Dietrich College and on campus. In this edition of The Garden, we present two poems about the murder of Black Americans and how we reckon with it. There is a trigger warning for the description of Black death.
In the April 10, 1968 edition of The Tartan, an anonymous CMU student submitted a poem about the assasination of Martin Luther King Jr., which had occurred six days earlier.
The Negro has been screwed… again.
A white man has screwed him… again.
Civil Rights has taken many steps backwards while taking a few steps forward… again.
The Negro is low man on the totem pole… again.
We have ridden the crest of a trembling wave for too long… again.
People are silent when passing one another… again.
“Love thy brother. Thou shalt not kill” and “All men are created equal” doesn’t mean shit… again.
… and it is difficult to look any Negro in the eye again.
… and the racial barriers are loud and strong… again.
The banal token statements from Washington are ever present… again.
… and that great come and get it day is further away than ever… again.
… and the world has been stunned… again.
… and the impossible dream is even more impossible… again.
… and fanaticism and ignorance rode high with success… again.
… and another dream is really deferred… again.
… and we are ashamed… again.
… and the Lorraine Motel has joined Ford’s Theatre and the Dallas Book Depository as a hideous landmark… again.
… and a Man of the Year has died… again.
… and the promising hopeful staccato notes are less evident than the bleak disgusting flat ones… again.
And the Long Hot Summer is imminent… again.
And there is one more magnificent courageous widow somewhere… again.
We all sort of stop… look… and listen… again.
… and we are down to a blistering nitty gritty… again.
The progressive years of lightning and days of drums are over for a while… again.
A phoenix that rose in fire has been snuffed out… again.
… and while the Negro has been truly and unjustly screwed… again.
… their must be a longing and a hope for better things to come ––
For now is the time for all good men… again.
Its sentiments ring true over 50 years later, following the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain and countless other Black people at the hands of the police. The world has been stunned again. We are ashamed again. The racial barriers are loud and strong––as they always have been.
The Garden was fortunate to receive the following poetry submission by a rising junior studying statistics named Q Quaye. Quaye has a Patreon for anyone interested in following their writing process as they work to publish their first poetry book in fall 2021.
Warning. The following content is graphic.
By Q Quaye
I leave the room
and start counting each deep breath
Still, the film plays against my closed eyelids
A knee on a neck or a gun to a back
I can hear the cry for help or the
and I open my phone and I search
antwon rose jr photo smiling
sandra bland photos alive
george taylor with family
my heart sits heavily in my ribcage
and I keep breathing.
But this only happens when I’m lucky.
Sometimes, there is no warning
and I have to sink into the leather chair in the family room
worn from years of
black doctors and
black students and
black felons and
black aunties and
their black babies and
black hearts and black souls
black thoughts and black prayers.
I cover my eyes
but still hear the
I try to count my breaths
thankful I’m able to breathe at all.