MRC Culture Festival Focuses on Community Building


Abe Fr

The MRC is hosting its annual Culture Festival this weekend.

Oberlin’s Multicultural Resource Commons will be hosting its annual Culture Festival tomorrow.

Ideated and organized by Ava Brown, OC ’22, the MRC’s 2023 BIPOC Fellow, this year’s Culture Festival will feature 16 student organizations, 15 local businesses, and a partnership with the local middle school. The festival will offer a staggering array of activities and performances —some rooted in cultural tradition, while others are a bit more outside of the box.

Founded in 1995 by Oberlin’s first female president, Nancy Schrom Dye, the MRC seeks to support, uplift, and provide a space of comfort for marginalized students, particularly those within BIPOC and queer identity groups. The MRC, situated on the second floor of Wilder Hall, is hosted by Brown and Katie Graham — the MRC’s LGBTQ+ Community Fellow — who exude warmth by creating a welcoming atmosphere for students when they visit.

After the MRC’s year-long shutdown post-COVID, and the organization’s total staff turnover, Brown aims, more than anything, to revitalize an organizational focus on forging spaces and creating events where students and community members can find catharsis through shared expressions of joy. Though her fellowship spans only 10 months, Brown hopes her commitment to positive community growth will continue to be reflected through the MRC’s organizational goals.

“[The] Culture Festival was an idea that I had when I was going through the interview process for this job,” Brown said. “Oberlin is such a nuanced community, and there’s a lot of different passions and things that people really care about. I wanted there to be a fun, involved space for people to showcase those things, whether it be lightsabers and cosplay or digging more into your roots as an individual; we have someone who’s doing a research booth showing off their research on their culture in Indonesia. I just wanted to make a space where people could feel confident and show off what they care about.”

Brown wanted to make sure the festival not only honored students’ and community members’ cultural identities, but also provided entertainment and activities that allow everyone to have plain old fun together. From an obstacle course to a bouncy house to a Tinikling dance workshop facilitated by the Filipinx American Students Association, the festival will provide countless opportunities for attendees to choose their own adventure. Participants can browse around the student activities field, or battle friends with a hand-crafted lightsaber.

MRC Associate Director NiK Peavy, who began their post this past November, stressed that the festival reflects a novel moment in the MRC’s institutional history. In the wake of COVID-19, this year’s festival aims to provide spaces and opportunities for town-gown community building.

“This is like the first time that we’re having this large cultural celebration that invites the whole campus and Oberlin community as well,” Peavy said. “I’m really excited that Ava is doing a lot of fun, quirky things that may have not happened in the past, so we can set that tone to make this more integrated in the College community. I don’t want this to be something that the MRC is putting on, I want this to be something that the MRC in collaboration with our students and student orgs are doing together.”

One of the student organizations that will be featured at the Culture Festival is AndWhat!?, Oberlin’s all-female and trans hip hop group created by Black women for Black women and allies. College fourth-year Chilly Wallace, AndWhat!?’s co-chair, has been a member of the group for the entire duration of her College career. She has found that AndWhat!? empowers its members to find joy in an essential form of expression that they would not be able to access through class listings.

“The Dance department just now started giving a hip hop class, which is like — who’s to say it doesn’t belong in a Dance major?” Wallace said. “But also [with] the Dance department being a very white space, AndWhat!? gives opportunity to people who aren’t represented in the dance world.”

At the Culture Festival, AndWhat!? will be performing choreography titled “Comfortable in my Own Skin” to a Beyoncé soundtrack. In many ways, the theme mirrors the Culture Festival’s ultimate goals: to uplift, to find and create joy, and to reclaim space and practice in a way that benefits marginalized communities on campus.

The Culture Festival will take place on April 15 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.