Carlos Andrés Gómez, award-winning poet, speaker, actor and author emphasized the difference between impact and intention during his presentation on Monday. Gómez was the first speaker in Westminster College’s Heritage Speaker Series, and he encouraged students to think critically about their use of language and how it might affect others.
Gómez’s lecture, “The Power of Our Latinidad in a Fractured World,” was the kick-off event for this year’s celebration of Latinx Heritage Month and was co-sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the B. W. Bastian Foundation.
“Carlos has an ability to talk about complex issues, such as identity and justice, in an accessible way,” said Daniel Cairo, director of student diversity and inclusion. “Through art and poetry, Carlos can reach audiences that a ‘traditional’ lecture might not.”
During the speaking event, Gómez said certain statements can be dehumanizing and hateful statements can be disguised as innocent questions. Some of these questions include, ‘What are you? Where are you from? Where are you really from?’
“Understand your impact may not be the same as your intention,” Gómez said. “[Language] frames the way we move through the world. [It] can have life and death circumstances and consequences, regardless of what our intentions are.”
The purpose of events like the Heritage Speaker Series is to “foster continuing dialogue and conversation around themes of identity, community, fellowship and inclusion,” according to Student Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator Kari Lindsey.
Each Heritage Speaker event comes back to the questions, ‘Why does this matter now, and how can we foster connections between people?’ And, ‘How do we foster conversations about inclusion and diversity that extend beyond the classroom?’ according to Lindsey.
Westminster students and professors who attended Gómez’s talk said that it opened them up to ideas they hadn’t thought about before.
“It really touched on a lot of important issues,” said Kai Syester, a senior psychology major. “I am aware of all these issues but they don’t affect me personally. So when I see someone like Carlos speak, it makes it so much more meaningful and real.”
Students also said Gómez’s presentation helped them see things from a different point of view.
“As a privilege middle class white person, I don’t see from [others] perspectives,” said Logan Deutchman, a sophomore public health major sociology minor, “But [Gómez’s presentation] wasn’t exclusive. Everyone there felt included.”
Members of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion said they hope that the Heritage Speaker Series will spark conversation long after Latinx Heritage Month is over.
“We hope to hear students continuing to ask these questions, ‘How can I foster a more inclusive campus, and what can I do to promote social equity?’” Lindsey said.