President Daniel M. Asquino (center) stands with Kennedy Owino of Fitchburg, Diversity Committee Co-Chair Maria Gariepy, Rebecca Schlier of Westminster, Diversity Committee Co-Chair Carla B. Morrissey, Gemini Walter of Leominster, and Rachel Adams of Fitchburg after presenting the students with their President’s Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition awards.

Four MWCC students have been honored in the fifth annual President’s Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition that sought out poems, essays and artwork highlighting the value diversity brings to learning and working.

This year’s winners are Rachel Adams of Fitchburg, Kennedy Owino of Fitchburg, Rebecca Schlier of Westminster, and Gemini Walter of Leominster. Each will receive a free, three-credit academic course for use during the spring or summer semesters.

The competition was developed by MWCC’s Diversity Committee to highlight the value of diversity to work and educational environments. Students are encouraged to submit papers, posters, essays, research work, art work or other original, creative work related to issues of diversity or identity, such as those involving disability, race, socio-economic status, veteran status, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and national origin.

Adams, a business administration student, wrote an essay entitled “I am invisible” with the goal of showing what it is like to be someone with an invisible disease. Not every struggle is seen and it is important to celebrate even the smallest victories, she said of her piece.

“Some people have a ball and chain around their ankle and it’s called an invisible illness,” Adams wrote in her essay. “It’s time to look at someone and really look at them. It’s time to celebrate small achievements of the day and be proud.”

Owino, a pre-engineering student, was honored for an essay entitled ‘When will it happen’ that explores the difficulty of making choices and being brave in an uncertain world.

“I champion that diversity should bring us together, not tear us apart,” he wrote. “Diversity is appreciating others for who they are.”

Schlier, a Gateways to College student, created a painting called “Mask” that depicts a multi-colored figure removing a theater-style mask. The piece embodies the experience that Schlier has undergone at Mount Wachusett Community College, where she has been able to remove her own mask.

“The mask represents how I had to be at my old school; I had to bottle up stress and sadness in order to fit in,” she wrote in her explanation of the piece.

Walter, a Human Services major, is the competition’s first three-time honoree, following up on his winning essay on what it means to embrace diversity with a free form literary piece designed to get people thinking about the impact of their words.

“When you last said goodbye to a child,” he writes, “did you let them know they are part of the chain of humanity, that they make a difference in this world?”

Walter’s piece asks the reader what message they are giving to children; encouraging the reader to empower children to accept diversity in all its forms and create a more accepting society as a result.

In addition to the awards and free academic course, the students’ work was displayed on MWCC’s campus.

Men of Color panel 1 TGN

Jesse Edwards speaks at a Mount Wachusett Community College panel discussion, Men of Color, on Monday while Eric Rodriguez, left, and Train Wu, right, look on. News staff photo by Andrew Mansfield

GARDNER – In an effort to close out Black History Month with a healthy dose of food for thought, Mount Wachusett Community College hosted a well-attended panel discussion and luncheon titled Men of Color on Monday.

A major theme of the event was listening to panelists as they described their experiences growing up and becoming aware of race relations in society. Jesse Edwards, director of Diversity and Equal Opportunity for the University of Massachusetts Medical School, said he grew up in Lowell in the projects with parents who didn’t graduate high school.

“I knew in the community I was living in, there weren’t many role models. You’re always constantly, I feel like, having to prove yourself,” he said. “We’re not living in a post-racial society,” said Eric Rodriguez, director of organizing at the United Neighbors of Fitchburg, a social service organization. Edwards and Rodriguez took part in a five-man panel.

Also included was Dr. Brian Lewis, a biology professor at UMass Medical School, Train Wu, a senior community outreach counselor for the Mount, and Waldo Zamor, a medical student from UMass Medical School set to graduate this year and practice dermatology. While Edwards, Lewis, and Zamor are black, Rodriguez is Hispanic and Wu is Asian, which allowed the panel to represent a broad spectrum of minority perspectives.

Much of their discussion focused on racial tensions that still exist in America and how they have felt personally about race in society. Lewis spoke about racial differences in America from an interesting perspective, having grown up in Jamaica, a nation with a history of slaves working on sugar plantations and a large percentage of its population being black. He said in Jamaica, he saw economics as more of an issue than race, but when he came to America to study at the University of California in Los Angeles, he encountered a different viewpoint.

“I realized for everyone else around me, race was a big issue. The key is recognizing differences and dealing with differences in a positive way,” he said. Julianna Ladd attended the panel discussion and is a student in the Mount’s Gateway to College program, which allows high school students to earn college credits. She noted that the panel members have all become professionally successful and asked them how their perspective on race might be different if they lived a poor area such as Section 8 housing, which is government-subsidized.

Zamor – who grew up in Queens, New York and Brockton – spoke about the troubles of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that people growing up in a poor neighborhood face, the difficulty they have in overcoming negative stereotyping. “These are all constant daily evaluations that you are not worth it. You’re being told that you’re one thing constantly and you develop into it,” he said. Wu, who was born in Laos in 1975 and spent time in a refugee camp in Thailand before moving to Fitchburg, said that in Fitchburg he lived in a Section 8 housing neighborhood.

“That was my burn; those were the times where I knew one day I would get out. For me, it was that I had to find something better … education is the only thing. You can become what you want to be. I still believe in that phrase,” he said. Greg Germagian, another Gateway to College student, asked panel members, “What are some ways you have been discriminated against because of your race?”

Zamor recalled a recent example in which as a medical student, he was given a patient to care for. The patient made it known their preference to be seen by someone else, despite the other options being medical students with less experience than him. He said he tried not to be offended and was ultimately able to convince the patient to allow him to provide care.

“Have some awareness that this shortcoming of the human race exists and it’s not personal. Anyone can be discriminated against; color is just one dimension of it,” he said.

While the dialogue mostly focused on their personal experiences, there were some questions targeted about how the issue of race is changing with newer generations. They commonly agreed that while there has been progress in all races being treated equally, society is still not “color-blind,” and issues such as reforms in the criminal justice system still need to be addressed to ensure fair treatment for everyone.

Another key point of conversation was the importance of civic engagement and being an independent thinker who is open-minded and doesn’t rely on unreliable information such as social media posts to develop opinions. “I would say everyone in this room needs to vote. The onus is also on us to make change happen,” said Rodriguez.

Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, March 1, 2016

Culture Fest 2016

February 24, 2016

The MWCC Culture Fest is back for the second time with its international event of entertainment, learning, and culture pm Wednesday, March 9 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the South Café.

Join the fun and experience a variety of different cultures. The event, hosted by the MWCC Diversity Committee, consists of music, artifacts, food, history, and current events that represent the diverse backgrounds of our faculty, staff, and students.

All proceeds from penny food sales will help fund the 2017 Culture Fest.


MWCC students Kyle Johnson and Heather Rick, with Diversity Committee member Carla Morrissey, left, and committee chair Carol Cullins, right. Not pictured: Tamara Harmon.

MWCC students Kyle Johnson, Heather Rick and Tamara Harmon are the winners of the second annual President’s Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition. Each will receive a free, three-credit academic course.

Rick, a paralegal studies major, was selected for her essay, Chair City, which reflected on her experience of class in Gardner. Her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in a dozen literary journals and she is currently working on a novel.

“Much of my work explores issues of class, particularly as it intersects with racial and sexual identity and the deconstruction of privilege. As someone who identifies as a working-class artist and has had to struggle to afford an education, I would like to work to provide underprivileged youth with access to arts education,” she said.

Johnson and Harmon, both art majors, were selected for artwork depicting diversity. Harmon created a sculpture of a human hand covered with images of world flags and a variety of faces. Johnson’s abstract painting features images of people, the tree of life, and panels depicting challenges and trimphs throughout the journey of life.

The competitive award provides a certificate and funding for a three credit course. The scholastic competition allowed students to prepare papers, posters, essays, research work, or other original, creative work related to issues of diversity or identity, such as those involving disability, race, socioeconomic status, veteran status, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and national origin, as well as the value such diversity brings to the learning and working environment.


MWCC announced the winners of the Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition. From left, Diversity Committee co chair Kim Giroux, students Joram Kiriungi, Kate Murphy and Renee Chandler, President Daniel M. Asquino, and committee co-chair Carol Cullins.

Joram Kiriungi, a nursing student who was born and raised in Kenya, Kate Murphy, a local artist and community volunteer majoring in Liberal Arts, and Renee Chandler, a human services major and poet, are the winners of Mount Wachusett Community College’s Commitment to Diversity Scholastic Competition.

The students were recognized by MWCC President Daniel M. Asquino and the college’s Diversity Committee on Feb. 20. Each will receive a free, three-credit academic course.

Kiriungi, who has lived in the U.S. since 2004, is pursuing his associate degree in nursing. In his essay, “Race,” Kiriungi examines his experiences as a black man living in America, having come from a country where he did not encounter prejudice because of the color of his skin.

“I applaud Mount Wachusett for initiating this exercise, which has allowed me to find a place for an honest discussion on what it means to be a black man in America who is not a slave descendant,” Kiriungi said. “In my paper, I examine the complications faced by people like me who cannot claim to identify with the black experience wholly, but yet are subjected to the same level of prejudice as any other black person in America is.”

Murphy, an artist, student, mother, wife and active volunteer in the community, was selected as one of the top three winners for her painting, “What Separates Us.” Her vibrant paintings and mixed media illustrations reveal complex, yet ambiguous narratives of a cartoonish, cubist reality that may in fact be our own. The diversity competition provided a perfect venue for her style of work because she often explores people, their attitudes and reactions to each other and their environment. After graduating from MWCC this spring, she plans to transfer to Fitchburg State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Chandler received the award for her collection of poems on diversity and mental health awareness. She earned her GED from the college and continued on through the Adult Basic Education program and is now a full-time student pursuing degrees in human services and complementary health care.

“I wrote about mental health, as that is my passion and decided to bare it all in my poetry,” she said. “I am so excited to be recognized for my writing and am thrilled to have had this chance to express my feelings openly and be rewarded for it.”

The competitive award provides a certificate and funding for a three credit course. The scholastic competition allowed students to prepare papers, posters, essays, research work, or other original, creative work related to issues of diversity or identity, such as those involving disability, race, socioeconomic status, veteran status, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and national origin, as well as the value such diversity brings to the learning and working environment.