Togetherness celebrated at Multicultural Reunion 2023

November 14, 2023

Jeremy Shapiro

About 75 alums came together last weekend at Multicultural Reunion 2023 to swap stories and consider how they can play a part to The Road Ahead Together – this year’s reunion theme.

Attendees were eager to interact with students and enthusiastic about a more connected and engaged present and future for Grinnell College’s multicultural communities.

“One of the reasons I came back is to see how the Grinnell experience has changed for students from historically underrepresented communities in higher education,” says J.J Joubert ’12

A third-year Ph.D. student at Arizona State studying the history of biology and science, Joubert took part in the many inclusive programs throughout the weekend across spectrums of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender expression, spirituality, and ability to access. Held every other year since 2017, this was the fourth Multicultural Reunion.

“I attended the first one,” Joubert says. “It’s interesting see how it’s grown and where we are heading. I want it to be around for a long time.”

One highlight of each reunion is the presentation of the Diversity Champion Award. This year Minna Mahlab was honored for her work with the Grinnell Science Project.

Mahlab is a lecturer and the director of the Science Learning Center, which provides tutoring for students in the sciences. Mahlab has also served as a faculty pre-orientation co-director for the Grinnell Science Project since she came to Grinnell in 1997.

“Hundreds of students have benefited from her commitment to their success and Grinnell is a more diverse place because of her,” says Meghan O’Connell ’01, a family medicine physician. “Minna has encouraged me throughout my career as one of only a small number of American Indian physicians in the country. My first real thoughts of going to medical school were when Minna took a group of us to explore the medical school at the University of Iowa. She always made me feel like I could be successful, and that science and math careers were a place that I belonged.”

Held as a pre-orientation program before fall classes begin, the Grinnell Science Project develops the talents of students interested in science and mathematics, especially those from underrepresented groups.

Mahlab has been a mentor for students going through the program. She makes a point of learning each student’s name within hours of meeting them. She continues to encourage them throughout their time at the College, building lasting and deep bonds with generations of Grinnellians.

“She was not only a mentor to me, but also a friend,” says Hellen Barroso ’15, a science teacher at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. “She was the embodiment of patience, intelligence, and just magic! I was a first-generation, Latina student who sometimes had her feet at Grinnell, but her heart back home. To this day I still think about what an impact she made in my experience at Grinnell. She taught me that no matter what was going on, you show up as your fantastic, authentic self, and you give it all that you’ve got.”

The reunion got underway Friday afternoon as alums stopped by the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) Open House and sampled a spiced sweet potato tea cake with orange zest and chocolate ganache made by Jane Hoffman ’25 in the Marcus Family Global Kitchen.

Next, during Undiscovered Grinnell: Illuminating Multicultural Stories attendees learned about the Multicultural Alumni Archive project, an online platform collecting and documenting the histories of the College’s rich legacy of multicultural student organizations. The site contains photos, timelines, oral histories, and biographies.

The session was a bit eye-opening for Linden Galloway ’17.

Emerson Williams-Molett ’07, left, speaks to Randell Christopher ’87 at the Connect and Share Workshop Saturday in the HSSC Global Living Room.
Emerson Williams-Molett ’07, left, speaks to Randell Christopher ’87 at the Connect and Share Workshop Saturday in the HSSC Global Living Room.

“I hadn’t necessarily thought of myself as part of the multicultural archive but hearing about it made me think more widely about groups that could contribute to the archive,” Galloway said referencing disability resources.

Documentary Filmmaker Yoruba Richen was the keynote speaker on Friday evening. Her presentation discussed the Black freedom struggle, the LGBT rights movement, and the ongoing struggle for equality.

On Saturday morning, alums took part in Recentering Yoga taught by Melissa Mitchell ’91 and a skills-based sharing event for alumni and students. Emerson Williams-Molett ’07 says he came to Reunion in part to talk with students. “It’s clear they are engaged, staying active in social justice, and eager to talk with alums.”

A number of College and student organizations held open houses Saturday afternoon. Multicultural Reunion served as the official launch for the Grinnell Rainbow Alumni Affinity Group, the first identity-based affinity group at the College. The group held a kick-off event where attendees met LGBTQIA+ students and took short tours of the Stonewall Resource Center.

A working group of 10 alums have spent the past year putting together the infrastructure of the Grinnell Rainbow Alumni. The group intends to foster a sense of community while presenting opportunities for alums to get involved.

“It’s been rewarding and interesting, and a lot of fun,” says Rick Rose ’88, Grinnell Rainbow Alumni co-chair. “The idea for it has been around for a while, but it’s thrilling to be able to be part of getting it off the ground. Since this is the first group of its kind, we’re kind of feeling our way through as far as how to really put together an alumni affinity group. We’ve worked throughout the year to put all the committees together and put the bylaws together to make sure that we’re working with a common set of rules and expectations. We have a good, running start.”

Dianne Jones ’74, left, Kesho Scott, and Dinah Zebot ’03 share a laugh before the gala dinner where the Dr. Kesho Scott Leadership and Community Development Fund was announced.
Dianne Jones ’74, left, Kesho Scott, and Dinah Zebot ’03 share a laugh before the gala dinner where the Dr. Kesho Scott Leadership and Community Development Fund was announced.

After the open houses, everyone came back together Saturday evening for the Gala Dinner, which included a celebration of the new Dr. Kesho Scott Leadership and Community Development Fund. Dianne Jones ’74 established the fund to carry forward Scott’s name and legacy in perpetuity.

An award-winning writer and internationally renowned diversity trainer and consultant, Scott has taught at Grinnell since 1986. She was the first African American woman to receive tenure at the College.  The Kesho Scott Fund will be used for programs, activities, and travel that support Black students’ leadership and identity development.

“I’m an intentional person,” Scott said at the gala dinner. “I was involved in movements because it was the tradition of my people. My people listen in real time. We don’t always have answers, but what I can say is to be honored and have recognized the work I have done around leadership and community development is powerful. It’s something that’s important to me.”


Visit the Multicultural Reunion webpage to learn more about what other events took place and see a full list of planning committee members. Also check out a web story about the Multicultural Archive to learn more about how the project came about.

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