Learn, Discuss, Do: Celebrating Juneteenth

June 17, 2021

As the Juneteenth holiday approaches, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) led by Schvalla Rivera, Chief Diversity Officer, has established a new practice at the College to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States in 1865. This is the inaugural year of recognizing the day with a holiday, giving employees of the College an opportunity to celebrate the historic day with loved ones on Friday, June 18 as well as the official holiday on Saturday, June 19. 

Several opportunities for virtual learning and engagement have been provided to students, faculty, and staff, such as information from the National African American Museum of History and Culture, definitions and topic explanations, and a curated list of movie suggestions surrounding the theme. “Philanthropy, activism, education, and conversation. We want to learn, discuss, do,” says Rivera. She also notes that a summer reading group has been established surrounding the book On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed to encourage a larger discussion amongst peers. 

While the established College holiday is new, the celebration of Juneteenth on campus is by no means unfamiliar. Past years have included informational programming and gatherings on campus to recognize and celebrate this crucial day in the country’s history. 

The Big Picture 

The greater impact on Grinnell’s social justice mission isn’t lost on Rivera. “It’s very important that we understand all facets of American history...Because, yes, our country is great, but we can’t forget the mistakes of our past and we can’t stop working to wreck them and build a brighter and more equitable future for all of us.” Celebrating Juneteenth is one small component of recognizing the inequities that exist for black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in our communities and the continued work of breaking down those barriers to provide equitable opportunities in our society. 

This mission goes hand-in-hand with the work of the Office of DEI. Rivera’s team works closely with the offices of the PresidentDean of the College, and Human Resources to recognize issues of inequity inside and outside the classroom. For example, one targeted area has been looking at hiring practices for faculty and taking steps to enhance inclusivity within those processes. 

Coming Together 

While the 2021 celebration of Juneteenth at Grinnell is a virtual one, Rivera looks forward to continuing the antiracism work that is often associated with the holiday when campus physically reconvenes in the fall. Rivera’s plans include creating working groups recognizing inequities among staff, establishing supportive affinity groups, and assisting departments to encourage and champion diversity and opportunity. 

Rivera says, “I want people to understand that we are all diverse. But are we being inclusive and are we creating equity within our spheres of influence?” While the work can’t be done solely from her office, she looks forward to working with each department to encourage these initiatives. 


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