| 03.18.2018

Contesting a lack of diversity – Ubuntu aims to encourage student discourse through MLK Art and Essay contest


When emails were sent out detailing the winners of the Martin Luther King Essay and Art Contest, University of Idaho graduate student, Maria Mejia, was convinced she hadn”t made the cut.

“The way (the email) was phrased, it was like, “We”ve received many essays,”” Mejia said. “So it kind of sounded like, “Oh, sorry, you didn”t get it.””

However, Mejia”s essay, “Viva la Revolucion!” was chosen as the winner in the contest”s graduate essay section.

Nicole Moeckli | Rawr

“I was kind of shocked,” Mejia said. “I continued reading and the last sentence was like, “You”re a winner.” I won, so that was pretty exciting.”

Erin James, chair of the Faculty Senate diversity committee, Ubuntu, said this is the second year the MLK Art and Essay Contest was held on campus and was once again a success.

James said the contest was first created as a way of celebrating and promoting diversity on campus.

“It”s been awesome. The contest has been so much fun,” James said. “It”s a way of encouraging people to talk about diversity on campus or think about diversity on campus or diversity initiatives that already exist, such as the MLK day programming.”

Each year, the contest revolves around a specific theme. This year, James said the prompt had to do with the MLK Day keynote speaker and one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Alicia Garza.

“We asked people to familiarize themselves with her work and imagine how we might create a more caring community on campus,” James said. “Last year”s prompt was wider, but this year we wanted to encourage people to really engage with the MLK keynote speaker.”

James said some contest participants directly referenced Garza while others took inspirations from her ideas regarding diversity.

Mejia said she used her own experience as a multicultural student to develop an essay about increasing inclusivity and acceptance of different cultures on campus.

“I talked about how we can be more inclusive, starting with faculty and staff and then administration,” Mejia said. “And by doing that, how that will influence students and students will through that, from the ground up, create an inclusive and caring community.”

One of the reasons Mejia said she believes the contest to be important is that it prompts students to not only think about diversity on campus, but also how to create a more inclusive environment.

“This one is extremely important,” Mejia said. “Sometimes, I think a lot of people acknowledge that we need to do something about diversity, but they don”t take the actual steps to actually do something.”

Contest winners also receive prizes. James said first place winners receive $500, honorable mentions receive $100 and everyone who places also receives a signed certificate from University of Idaho President Chuck Staben.

As the contest continues to grow, James said she hopes to see more students become involved and engage in discourse regarding diversity on UI”s campus.

“I would like to encourage people to keep their eyes open for it next year,” James said. “It”s a great contest and it comes with a great prize and it celebrates a really important part of our campus.”

Contest Winners

Graduate Essay

Winner Maria Florentina Mejia – “Viva la Revolucion!” (Long Live the Revolution)

Honorable Mention: Evy Sotelo –”Indulging the Diversity of Beautiful Minds”

Undergraduate Essay

Winner: Leanna Keleher –”Choosing to be an Ally”

Honorable Mention: Izaiah AB Dolezal –”The Ever-Looming Reality” and Ivan Mucyo Ngabo – “Finding a Way Forward in the Past”

Graduate Art

Honorable Mention: Caleb Parker – “Equ [All]ity”

Undergraduate Art

Winner: Hunter Van Bramer –  “I AM”

Honorable Mention: Molly Pitman –”Death Unites Us,” Abby Johnson – “A Right to Humanity is a Bridge … Love Letter,” and Jessica Bovee –”Struggle”

Corrin Bond can be reached at  arg-arts@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @CorrBond

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