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My first year of college was at times rough as I tried to engage friends in conversations around social justice issues and encourage them to think critically about their own position in society in relation to their race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. I felt I didn’t have the proper venue to express my frustrations with discrimination, ignorance, or unrecognized privilege, so as soon as I could, I enrolled in Race and Power and by the next spring I was co-facilitating my own race dialogue course, focusing on multiracial identity. The experience was unbelievably powerful and for the rest of my Skidmore career I looked for ways to stay involved with the Intergroup Relations Program.
I began working at the Office of Student Diversity Programs the same year, helping to raise awareness around social justice issues, and became a student assistant for Kristie Ford (associate professor of sociology and director of IGR), helping with research that related to the successes of the program. My senior year I wanted to give back and signed up to become the peer mentor for the Scribner Seminar course, Race in the Obama Era. Although I wasn’t positive where exactly I wanted to go in life, my role as a co-facilitator during my sophomore year and then as a mentor my senior year led me to pursue education. Currently I am an assistant director in the Skidmore Admissions Office and focus on multicultural recruitment and programming. As an admissions counselor, I reach out to all students but try to focus primarily on those students who have not had the proper support, guidance, or privilege in knowing how to navigate the higher-education admissions process. It was through IGR that I came to learn about the structures of institutional discrimination and now have a much better understanding of the education system and its inequities. The Intergroup Relations Program also taught me the value of effective communication and how to successfully reach out to those students who may otherwise see me as “the other.” It is ultimately because of IGR that I am able to identify my own issues with my work in higher education and inspire me to look further into how I can become a better social justice advocate.
Luna Malachowski Bajak
I'm currently working for a transitional shelter in Manhattan that is designed to assist 43 women who are homeless, addicted, and diagnosed with a mental illness. I work as a bilingual case manager providing direct services to a number of my own clients in hopes to empower them and help place them into permanent supportive housing. I am particularly interested in the intersection of women's physical health and mental health.
I am also obtaining a master's in social work in the evenings. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a full scholarship by the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. I hope to continue working within the mental field upon graduation. I'm privileged to be working and growing from my peers, faculty, experiences, and case management.
The Intergroup Relations Program exposed me to a lot of themes and/or bias (i.e structural inequality) that are central to the work I'm doing. I have the program to thank for strengthening my communication skills, self-awareness, and ultimately my ongoing commitment to social justice.
Victoria Malaney received her B.A. cum laude in English-Spanish and minored in dance & Latin American studies from Skidmore College. At Skidmore, Victoria was peer-facilitator in the Intergroup Relations Program. After college, Victoria enrolled in the national community service program, AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) in Albany, N.Y. During her first year as an AmeriCorps VISTA, she worked at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany and developed a re-entry mentoring program for women coming out of incarceration in Rensselaer County, N.Y. Victoria committed to a second year of national service, fighting poverty as an AmeriCorps VISTA Leader at Siena College in the Office of Academic Community Engagement, where she served as the coordinator for training and enrichment. Victoria is a passionate social justice advocate. Currently, she is a fellow in the Office of Student Diversity Programs, where she serves as the liaison between the office and student diversity clubs, collects and organizes the institutional memory of past and present diversity initiatives, co-facilitates the multiracial student and transracial adoptee focus group, and motivates all Skidmore students to be active in social justice issues. For more information about the Office of Student Diversity Programs (OSDP), please visit the website: cms.skidmore.edu/campuslife/osdp.
As a sociology major I found that my research largely focused on conflicts across difference, and the Intergroup Relations Program provided that perfect opportunity for me to bridge my intellectual and personal interests through dialogue. My senior year, I co-facilitated the White Racial Identity Dialogue and affirmed my commitment to social justice. After graduating from Skidmore in 2009, I moved to Philadelphia to join Teach for America and to attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. I spent my past two years as a middle school language arts teacher in an Afro-centric charter school in North Philadelphia, and had the great privilege and opportunity to work directly with over 200 students and families from all corners of the city. In all of the work I did, both academically and professionally, I know that IGR was the foundation of my success. As an intergroup relations facilitator I learned to think, question, and listen in ways that profoundly impacted my experience as an educator. As a classroom teacher in an urban school, I found that my IGR training gave me the strength, passion, and calmness of mind to refocus me each day in order that I could give my all to my students. After leaving a life of privilege to enter a challenged environment, I know that intergroup relations taught me how to reach across difference, listen with empathy, and tirelessly work towards equity. With my students I made space in the classroom to talk about issues of identity, be they about race, gender, religion, sexuality, and/or class. Through writing in particular, I worked to ensure that all of my students had the opportunity for their voices to be heard. For my master's thesis, “The Skin We’re In: Untapping Potential in One All Girls Classroom,” I conducted practitioner inquiry to explore what happened when I challenged the power dynamic in the classroom so that we were co-teaching, co-learning, and co-creating curriculum. I found that in listening to dissent, a skill I began to develop as an IGR facilitator, I was able to capitalize on the potential within my classroom to both increase the literacy and the humanity of my students. I know that my work with intergroup relations will continue to motivate the work that I do in the future.
As a student at Skidmore, I was deeply involved in the betterment of the community via research and activism on campus. I worked for Professor Ford as an intergroup relations student research assistant for two years and was among the first group of students to graduate with a minor in IGR. Being involved with IGR allowed me to connect deeper with my honest voice as well as taught me the balance of how to express myself in each situation, things that have been immensely beneficial in my life post-undergrad.
Yet because I jumped fully into campus activism and involvement, by the time I graduated I felt nearly burnt to a crisp. Despite how rewarding it feels now, being a female multiracial activist on a predominantly white campus that’s growing into its unique diversity was beyond challenging. So, upon graduating, I hurried home to Ohio, a place far enough away that I could almost forget my college life and all its many parts.
After a few months at home, I went off on a five-month trip around the U.S. and east Asia. I visited family and friends around the world, spent a month in southern Vietnam at a yoga teacher training, a month in Beijing learning the movements of a culture new to me, and ended back in Saratoga to watch a collective of my good friends celebrating the achievement of attaining their bachelor’s degree.
Then I returned home ready to get clearer on what I wanted to do with my life now that undergrad was moving further into my past. I decided to start up my own jewelry business so that I could finally give space to my creative passions while also learning how to work for myself. I am currently continuing to build my business as well as working at a local arts high school as coordinator for a grant-funded extended day arts program. Most importantly, I am learning how to bring the same passion and energy to my daily life at home as was so seemingly easily cultivated at Skidmore, and this has made all the difference as I build the life that calls from my dreams.
I learned that at times a calm, informed approach was needed and sometimes it was the honest, direct and open emotions that made the biggest impact. These are skills that have transferred to many aspects of my life.