On October 4, 2013 at approximately 7:12 p.m. the Coop TV room began to fill with the low hum of conversation, laughter, and anticipation. The Black Student Union (BSU) was hosting its first Speak Easy in collaboration with students from Hamilton College. The event attracted many different students who were excited to either perform, share a slice of pizza, or simply listen. A hush filled the space as 25-30 students settled in their seats to take in the words, emotions, and experiences of those who approached the microphone. One of the individuals who performed was OUS Scholar Melissa Gámez ’14.
Gámez’s voice was one of strength, humor, and history as she performed her piece – and with every great composition, there is an even greater inspiration behind it. Gámez explained:
” What inspired me to write the piece was everything I have felt that has been piling on top of me since coming to Colgate. This includes how I see myself in the context of an institution like Colgate, and even larger institutions in this country. At times, I see myself as an outsider because I am the child of Mexican immigrants and because some of my own customs and beliefs are seen as ‘different’ and treated as ‘exotic.’ There have also been quite a few times when I explain to people what I am getting my degree in, who I am, where I come from, and when I do I tend feel like I am ‘other.’ I’ve been really thinking about how I can address this issue so I decided to write this piece.”
As the senior adviser for BSU, Gámez explained that the importance of events such as the Speak Easy stems from a certain power in validating one’s experiences:
“Events like Speak Easy are crucial to hold because it encourages students who may not be comfortable speaking in public to do so in a safe and informal environment where everybody is there to just listen to them, and nothing else. I fully admire students who have the courage and confidence to get up to recite a poem or just talk about what has been bothering them throughout their time at Colgate. There are so many times that students will be intimidated by reciting something they wrote, or just any frustrations in general because they feel they can’t, or because they feel they don’t know enough. By performing my piece, I felt a tremendous amount of power, which doesn’t happen for me very often! So, by having this experience, I know I have the power to make people (at least those who are willing to attend a Speak Easy, or Release Night) see different perspectives on the social climate at Colgate, and in the world at large.”
Individuals such as Gámez continue to make events like the Speak Easy successful and memorable. The event and the night came to a close as everyone left having met a new face and having heard new, vibrant voices that spoke to a variety of experiences. Gámez is no exception. She not only expressed herself through poetry, but also photography and drawing.
Gámez is an art & art history major with an emphasis in studio art. Also, on top of being a BSU senior adviser, she is the co-president of the COVE group Project Peace, and an active member of Latin American Student Association (LASO), the Anti-Racism Coalition, and the Native American Students Association (NASA). She encourages students to use their experiences, voices and ears in the same way: “Try to go outside of yourself and attempt to understand those who are different from you with true empathy and compassion. Talk to as many people as you can to broaden your perspectives on the world and its people. Above all else, listen.”