Honoring MHC’s students and alumnae of color

“I see myself as a scholar and activist who views the classroom and the university as a space to engage contemporary issues with a sensibility of the past,” says Hortense Parker Celebration speaker Whitney Battle-Baptiste, of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center.

By Sasha Nyary 

“Collective Concern, Collective Power” is the theme of this year’s Hortense Parker Celebration at Mount Holyoke College. The phrase signifies power in numbers — that in order to create true social change and a just community for students of color, the entire campus needs to come together. 

The annual event, which was started in 2009 by two seniors, is held in honor of Mount Holyoke’s students of color and includes speakers, an essay contest, entertainment and a reception. This year’s Hortense Parker Celebration is slated for Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. in Gamble Auditorium

The event’s name comes from the College’s first known African American student, Hortense Parker, who arrived on campus in 1878, a highly segregated era just a decade after the end of the Civil War. College officials were surprised to learn she was black but they allowed Parker to enroll in classes and live on campus with the white students. She graduated in 1883. 

The event is organized by the Student Government Association Students of Color Committee. The committee’s treasurer, Isabella Japal ’20, said she has been intrigued by Parker’s story since arriving on campus. 

“The Hortense Parker Celebration is a great way to recognize the Mount Holyoke alumnae of color and their legacies, as well as aid in the College’s mission to create an inclusive environment for current and future students of color,” Japal said. “I hope every student is inspired to reflect on the incredible efforts that went into carving out a space for students of color by the alums, and consider ways they can do the same during their time here.” 

The 2017 keynote speakers are both from the University of Massachusetts Amherst: Whitney Battle-Baptiste, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center and an anthropology professor, and Kymberly Newberry FP’15, a graduate student in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies. 

“We are honored to have Dr. Battle-Baptiste as the keynote speaker,” said Latrina Denson, assistant dean of students. “As a black feminist whose focus is on archaeology in the African diaspora and the intersectionality of race, gender, class and sexuality, she's a force to be reckoned with.” 

Battle-Baptiste’s pioneering work includes interpreting captive African domestic spaces at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage Plantation, the early history of Boston’s school segregation and the W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Her first book, “Black Feminist Archaeology,” broke ground by showing how black feminist thought can be used to inform and improve the entire field of contemporary historical archaeology. 

Denson said the first time she met Newberry, the second keynote speaker, she was “mesmerized by her talent, presence, passion to learn and commitment to mentoring young students of color on campus. Kymberly has continued to serve as a role model for current students and I am honored to hear her empowering words.” 

Newberry was a Frances Perkins Scholar in the College’s program for students whose educations have been interrupted and she majored in international relations. Her current research interests include the intersectionality of visual art and diplomacy, Francophone Africa and the influence of Africa on the Iranian Revolution.

An annual essay contest is held as part of the Hortense Parker Celebration. This year the top three finalists will be announced during the event and the winner will read their essay aloud. Students were invited to submit essays exploring the question: “If you were a student when Hortense Parker arrived, what would you do to help her feel ‘MoHome?’” 

The festivities also feature the singing of Taylor Longmire ’20 and a performance by Raqs MHC, the student belly dance club. 

The other members of the Students of Color Committee organizing the Hortense Parker Celebration include the chair, Millie Koong ’18, Monique Roberts ’19 and Mariana Jaramillo ’20. The event is co-sponsored by the Division of Student Life, the Office of Advancement and the Alumnae Association.

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