Creating Connections and Fostering Community
January 16, 2020
Like many incoming students, Diana Truumees ’21 remembers that during her first couple of weeks at Southwestern University, she was in search of a niche. “I had been looking for a group on campus,” she recalls. “I went to the 2017 fall CDSJ retreat my first semester, and it was just a really great group of people— all these different people with all this passion for making the world a better place and trying to get people more connected. I thought it was really, really interesting, and I wanted to be part of it.”
The group known as CDSJ is the Coalition for Diversity and Social Justice, an organization that traces its history to 2009. It’s an umbrella for an alphabet soup of student clubs that celebrate and promote diversity and organize to create real change on campus: the Asian Student Association, Empowering Blacks and Others to Never Yield (EBONY), the Food Justice Association (FJA), the Hispanics and Latinos Organization (HALO), Jolt (which empowers young Latinos through political engagement), Kappa Delta Chi (KDChi, a Latina-founded national sorority), Pirates for Pride (which supports the LGBTQIAP student community), Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK), the Reproductive Justice Alliance, and SU Native Americans Teaching Indigenous Values Everywhere (SU NATIVE). In addition to meeting regularly and hosting events, the directors of these organizations, in cooperation with student workers in the Office of Diversity Education, help maintain the Cross-Cultural Center, a library, meeting, and study space in SU’s Prothro Center for Lifelong Learning.
After the 2017 CDSJ retreat, Truumees quickly found herself getting involved with Raising Awareness about Veganism to Everyone (RAVE) and KDChi, which entailed meetings with other members of the CDSJ. She then began helping Terri Johnson, assistant dean for student multicultural affairs, and the Office of Diversity Education develop SU’s Lavender Spaces, the University’s version of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ and MOGAI (marginalized orientations, gender alignments, and intersex) students. By the second semester of her sophomore year, Truumees had become copresident of CDSJ, and in fall 2019, she simultaneously took on the duties of president of KDChi. “I’m super busy,” she laughs.
“My biggest mission has been trying to create more connectivity within all these different organizations and creating a broader sense of community.”
Truumees, a history major and music minor, jokes that it was vanity that made her assume so many responsibilities, but it’s clear that her passion for social-justice causes and her leadership are what drive her commitment to these organizations. “My biggest mission has been trying to create more connectivity within all these different organizations and creating a broader sense of community,” she says. Last summer, for example, Truumees worked to create the CDSJ archive, a repository of resources—including photographs of and posters for events, ideas for programming, and explanations of how to maintain a budget or develop a social-media presence—to support other Southwestern students, current and future, who are leading campus organizations. She says her efforts exemplify Southwestern’s Paideia approach to education, in which students link what they’re learning in and beyond the classroom: her work on the archive was intended “to make connections easier, to make it easier for people to put on different types of programming, and to make academic and theoretical connections with current events.”
Such connection-making was apparent late last October, when Truumees collaborated with the leaders of two CDSJ organizations to organize an on-campus screening and discussion of the 2016 documentary Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four. The film follows four Latina women who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for nearly 15 years for the molestation of two young girls—only to be exonerated in 2016. “It was heartwrenching but, I think, a really important story to know about, especially since it was something that happened two hours away from here,” says Truumees, who is a Detroit native but lived in San Antonio for eight years before enrolling at SU. To bring the documentary to campus, Truumees requested that the leaders of Pirates for Pride and HALO contribute funding for the event. That spirit of mutual support characterizes many of CDSJ-affiliated events, with members of multiple organizations pitching in by planning, setting up, and cleaning up after workshops and panels. “Offering manpower and resources to make things easier has been the primary mechanism” of the CDSJ’s relationship with its member organizations, Truumees explains—which is all the more crucial to make events successful given Southwestern’s small size.
“The CDSJ 10-year anniversary reception was a chance for interested first-years to meet each other, meet CDSJ leaders, and learn more about each organization and what it means to be a member in each of them.” —Truumees
Early in the fall 2019 semester, the CDSJ rung in its 10th anniversary with a reception celebrating diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. Truumees then coordinated the annual CDSJ retreat, during which returning members welcomed first-years and other newly interested students and discussed their goals for the semester. It’s an occasion the SU junior holds dear to her heart because she wants incoming students to feel as welcome as she did when she first arrived on campus, and she has designs on making the yearly event a biannual affair. As she prepares for the spring schedule of events, Truumees says that she looks forward to Dream Week, beginning on January 20, which celebrates the life and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. Then, in April, one of her favorite events, the annual Dolores Huerta–Cesar Chavez Dinner hosted by KDChi, will take place. In 2019, the CDSJ’s guest speaker was Cristina Tzinzún. “She’s a powerhouse,” Truumees shares. “She started JOLT on a statewide level, and that’s a really, really cool organization, so just hearing her talk about her career and her life was really impactful for me and for a lot of other people there as well.”
In addition to putting on events that expand members’ perspectives, one of the greatest perks of leading the CDSJ has been working with Johnson, the organization’s advisor and Truumees’s supervisor at the Office of Diversity Education. “She’s the best advisor ever!” she says excitedly. “She’s really, really wonderful [and] very, very supportive. She very much allows students to do things independently but is a resource to come to if you need assistance. I don’t think I could ask for a better advisor, and I think a lot of other students would say the same thing.”
Unsurprisingly, that affection for Johnson extends to the CDSJ’s members as well. For Truumees, that feeling of shared enthusiasm and partnership are the heart of the organization. “Getting to see things get done in a tangible way is always rewarding, but I think the best part of the CDSJ is the community and support that you can gain from it because everyone wants everyone else to succeed,” she observes. “You come into that with a warm heart already and a lot of compassion and kindness. That’s been the most rewarding part for me.”