UAlbany Students Celebrate Diversity at Third Annual Cultural Connections Festival
By J.T. Stone
ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 14, 2023) — More than 200 University at Albany students celebrated cultural diversity at the third annual Cultural Connections Festival – an event that transformed the Campus Center Great Hall into a hub for cultural appreciation and expression.
The festival, which took place on Friday, gave students and members of the greater Capital Region the chance to showcase their cultural identities through performances, including song, dance and poetry. A variety of dishes were also served including tres leches cake and empanadas that represented South and Central America, Vietnamese spring rolls that represented East and Southeast Asia, and hummus and baba ganoush with pita chips that represented Southwest Asia and North Africa.
Along with enjoying food and performances, attendees got to strut their stuff on the cultural catwalk, showing off an array of attire from countries spanning the globe, including Ghana, Japan, Canada and Ecuador.
“We wanted to create an environment for third culture kids, children of immigrants, international students and everyone else on campus to learn about different cultures and represent their own culture,” said Sabaa Logman, a senior in the Department of Biological Sciences and president of UAlbany’s Cultural Connections club. “Sometimes you forget about how much your culture matters because you don’t always get the chance to deeply connect with it. This is a chance to go through your closet and find something that reminds you of when you were a kid.”
Logman, who donned a thawb on the cultural catwalk — a dress traditionally worn by Sudanese women – said the continuing popularity of the Cultural Connections Festival is a testament to the rich diversity of the UAlbany community. This sentiment was echoed by Samuel Caldwell, chief diversity officer and associate vice president of diversity and inclusion at UAlbany, who addressed the crowd of both domestic and international students.
“Not every campus has the benefit of having people from different cultures, faiths and backgrounds come together to celebrate in a single space,” Caldwell said. “That kind of diversity is exactly what I see here tonight.”
UAlbany has consistently been ranked as a national leader in promoting diversity and inclusion as well as social mobility and educational equity. For the sixth consecutive year, UAlbany has received the 2023 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education. UAlbany has also been lauded as a leader in advancing racial equity and social mobility for marginalized communities, such as Latina/o and Black students.
The Wall Street Journal 2024 “Best Colleges in the U.S.” report ranks UAlbany at No. 21 nationally for social mobility, the highest among SUNY campuses and the second highest among all public and private New York institutions.
Farhana Islam, a graduate student in the Department of English from Bangladesh, performed the classical Indian dance known as Kathak at the event. Islam said she was excited to represent her country through dance and break down stereotypes she said are too often placed on different cultures, particularly Muslim students.
“I’m always looking for opportunities to connect with other people and this is a great platform for students to represent themselves and share their stories,” Islam said. “There are different kinds of Muslims all over the world and events like this help us break stereotypes and show people that there's so much diversity among all different groups of people.”
After the performances and cultural catwalk finished, many attendees joined the open dance floor. Maria Celeste Villacreses, a junior in the Department of Biological Sciences and vice president of Cultural Connections, said her favorite part of the night was the dance party that concluded the festival. Along with a white dress, Villacreses wore a hat from her mom that is painted the colors of the Ecuadorian flag, her home country.
Villacreses also read a poem about missing Ecuador after moving to the United States for college. Although it was difficult adjusting to American culture, she soon found a community of friends at UAlbany that she said made college feel like a second home.
“I’m not from here or from there, I’m from the wonderful memories that haunt me in my dreams,” Villacreses read. “But now I’m here, surrounded by wonderful friends and a wonderful community. When I wake up, I say, ‘Thanks God,’ because I’m here.”
Logman, the president of Cultural Connections, added that despite this year being her last at UAlbany, she is optimistic to see how the event grows in the future — particularly in encouraging people to discover their own culture.
“Culture is everything from how we speak to where we grew up to what food our parents cook for us at home. It’s more than just a set of clothes you put on — it's something that makes you who you are,” she said. “Everyone has an individualistic cultural experience but within that is the shared human experience that connects us all.”