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Multicultural Alumni Weekend earns bronze award from CASE

Multicultural+Alumni+Weekend+won+a+Bronze+award+for+Best+Diversity+Program.
Multicultural Alumni Weekend won a Bronze award for Best Diversity Program.

In November of 2017, Grinnell hosted the first-ever Multicultural Alumni Reunion, featuring a speaker, student-alumni panels and the presentation of the brand-new Diversity Champion Award, granted to Professor Kesho Scott, sociology. The event, which garnered favorable reviews from alumni, staff and students alike, provided an opportunity for alumni from marginalized backgrounds to share their stories and their hopes for the future of multicultural student experiences at Grinnell. Due to the success of the program, which the Council for Advancement and Support for Education recognized via a Bronze award for Best Diversity Program, the event will be a recurring reunion, scheduled to happen once every two years.

Sarah Smith-Benanti, Associate Director of Alumni and Donor Relations for Diverse Communities, explained that the main goal of the program was to reengage the college community with alumni from diverse backgrounds.

“Essentially, the College hasn’t done a very good job of keeping in touch with and reaching out to our multicultural populations,” said Smith-Benanti.

She added that after the College cut ties with the Posse program in mid-2016, many alumni reached out to the College, denouncing the decision. The College felt that they needed to reconnect with the multicultural alumni population and provide a space for former students to talk about their experiences on campus.

The concept for the program arose out of a discussion between Jayn Chaney, director of alumni and donor relations and members of the Student Organization of Latinxs. When alumni responded positively to the idea, the College hired Smith-Benanti to plan the reunion, a position which led to the job she holds now. She emphasized that the program as it currently exists is one of the few in the country, in terms of its specific focus and frequency.

“Other institutions might have a singular event during their big reunion or homecoming weekend or something like that, or they might do something special every five years … I think we’re somewhat unique compared to our peers in that,” Smith-Benanti said.

Reina Matsuura ’19 participated in the event last year as a panelist with her mother. She explained that the College currently has very few legacy students from marginalized backgrounds; last year, there were only twelve. Matsuura got to participate on the panel with her mother, Katherine Matsuura ’90, neé Rankin.

“It was nice to just have a conversation about why it is that fewer students of color send their kids to Grinnell,” said Matsuura. “It was really cool, because the invitation [to participate] came out of nowhere for me, and I didn’t know that there were people who cared about things like this on campus.”

Matsuura and Smith-Benanti are working on the next reunion, set to happen in November 2019. Benanti mentioned that the planned theme of the event is food and food traditions and the planned keynote speaker is involved in the culinary arts. Matsuura is working to plan a student-alumni open mic night for the event. In addition, both mentioned a new project to create a digital archive of Grinnell history with a focus on enhancing institutional memory and accountability within the College.

The events during the reunion will be free and open to students, as they were during the last event. Matsuura and Smith-Benanti strongly encourage students to attend to connect with their community of alumni.

Multicultural Alumni Weekend won a Bronze award for Best Diversity Program.
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