Editor’s Note: A source, whose name was changed to ‘Jane Smith’ for the sake of this article, requested to have her name altered. 

The university spoken word poet and rapper, interviewed for this article, requested her name not be used.

Why?

Because she does not want to be harassed or lose job opportunities for speaking out about equality.

Jen Smith, the alias given to the poet for the purposes of this article,  has led rallies for racial equality, and received threats and hate mail because of her activism.

She, and other members of the TOTUS, a spoken word community, gathered with guests Tuesday in Stamp’s Atrium to discuss social justice in all areas of society. TOTUS is a two-credit class aimed to explore social justice issues through poetry.

Adjusting her red baseball cap, Smith answered questions with control and poise.

“We need to have places where people of different ethnicities, and people with differences can feel comfortable,” Smith said. “Because when people start talking about things they start feeling, and once people start feeling they start trying to incite change.”

The Mixed Monologues event was centered around exploring marginalized cultural and gender identities through art, as opposed to traditional discussion.

“People are more honest through art,” Smith said. “I feel like people lie in conversation, but they don’t really lie in their poems or they don’t lie in their songs – they don’t lie in their portraits. They tell the truth.”

Naliyah Kaya, coordinator for Multiracial & Multicultural Student Involvement, said collective sharing of ideas helps bring about change.

“It’s easy for people to stay within their comfort zones and to never come in contact with those that differ from themselves,” Kaya said. “The significance isn’t in simply hosting these events – it’s in the sharing and listening that takes place. That is where the power to create change lies.”

Kaya is a spoken word poet, and discusses race and incarceration injustice. When she first began participating in spoken word, she said she “was able to hear and feel the power […], being able to silence a room or touch someone in the audience. I also start seeing it, as many do, as a way to address systems of inequality.”

Smith said there are some students whom do not believe racial inequality exists.

“It means you’ve got privilege,” she said. “Congratulations, you don’t have to worry about stuff like that. I would say it’s unfortunate. I would say if the roles were reversed I would care about you.”

The atmosphere of the event was welcoming. As each person walked up a small set of stairs and onto the stage, the room exploded into applause and in the event a poet forgot his or her words, the audience nonetheless delivered encouragement.

Jill Santos, president of UMD Feminists and public relations officer for Sex Week recited a poem titled, “To My Fellow White Feminists,” before the audience.

She called for a more diverse, accepting atmosphere within the feminist community. Santos emphasized feminists should not exclude the transgender community or people of color.

She concluded the piece with a passionate call-to-action.

“We need to do better.”

“It felt good to be on stage,” Santos said. “I was nervous walking up, but once I started reading I started to ease up. It was nice knowing people were so supportive of what I had to say and [the] way that I wanted to say it.”

The day after the event, the group of poets met for an in-class discussion, and left with the following prompt:

“Write from the point of view of someone who resents you because they see you as more privileged than they are.”

Raye Weigel is a freshman English and community health double major and can be reached at rayanneweigel@gmail.com.

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