The Evolution of Multicultural Reunion

Chris Wilde ’88

Following previous targeted reunion events for black students and the first LGBTQIA+ reunion in 2016, Multicultural Reunion seeks to establish a sense of inclusion among alumni who may or may not have had that community as students by celebrating the strength we find in our overlapping personal, cultural, spiritual, and social identities.

Instrumental to the success of Multicultural Reunion is the strong leadership from the alumni community. Rhonda Stuart ’86 chaired the first Multicultural Reunion Planning Committee in 2017, culminating in events attended by 150 alumni. That work was recognized in 2018 in the best diversity program award category by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

In 2019 Stuart returned to head the reunion planning committee, along with co-chairs Graciela Guzmán ’11, Lester Alemán ’07, and Chris Wilde ’88. Our partners in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Sarah Smith-Benanti and Jayn Bailey Cheney ’05, and multicultural organization student leaders met via phone conferences and on-campus meetings to formulate events to explore the impact of diversity initiatives on Grinnell student life.

The 2019 Multicultural Reunion in November brought 120 alumni back for events designed to help attendees meet and reconnect, starting with our Friday kickoff event, “Looking Back and Leaping Forward.” Guided by prepared prompts, participants shared freely their fun memories, frustrations, and vulnerabilities. We segued into “Invisible Identities,” a panel of alumni and a current student, moderated by Anna Dudda ’96, to discuss topics such as hidden disabilities and neurodiversity, with frank conversation about how resources for students with disabilities have evolved over time.

On the Jewish Sabbath Friday evening, Rabbi Rachel Weiss ’98 led a Shabbat service prior to the lively, soul-stirring keynote address by Michael Twitty, a gay, African American Jewish culinary cultural interpreter, author of The Cooking Gene, which features stories exploring his intersectional identity through the lens of food traditions.

Saturday started with a wide-ranging conversation among the diversity professionals on the College staff to provide status reports about initiatives and the challenges in growing these programs. Next, we heard from a panel comprised of outstanding multicultural historians including a current student, two alumni, and Daniel Kaiser, professor emeritus. His new book explores the lives of African Americans, including Edith Renfrow Smith ’39 and her family, who lived in the town of Grinnell in the early 20th century.

At the second annual gala dinner, five alumni were honored with the 2019 Diversity Champion Award: Hubert Farbes ’69, Roy Walker ’69, Merryll Penson ’70, Grant Crandall ’69, and U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate ’69. Professor Kesho Scott, inaugural recipient of the award in 2017, was on hand to present. Each alum was instrumental in founding Concerned Black Students (CBS) and the Conney M. Kimbo Black Cultural Center (BCC). The weekend concluded Sunday morning with Black Church in Herrick Chapel, featuring the Rev. Brian Smith ’94 and the Young, Gifted, and Black Choir.

Concurrent events rounded out the weekend, including the queer people of color student-produced drag show, now entering its second decade, and the Multicultural Digital Archive Project, a concept for a future segment of the Digital Grinnell website to be focused on the timelines of multicultural student organizations, created by Katherine Rankin Matsuura ’90, Wilde, and student researchers.

Please make plans to join us in fall 2021 for the third Multicultural Reunion.

The Grinnell College Alumni Council supports purposeful, lifelong relationships among Grinnell alumni and between the alumni and College communities.


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