Essay contest calls us to ‘Be the Change’

Rebecca Dunphy, News Editor

Run to your laptop or get out your pens, because the “Be the Change” student essay competition is underway now through March 19.

‘Be the Change: Building a Diverse, Inclusive and Antiracist Community’ is an initiative sponsored by the Mercyhurst University Office of Mission and the International Student Association to elevate student voices and pro[1]mote constructive conversation about antiracism efforts.

“By participating in the contest, my hope is that students are able to really reflect on racism in our society and how we can work to end it,” said student organizer and senior Intelligence Studies major, Sarah Klein. “Mercyhurst has been hosting many virtual antiracism events where community members are able to educate themselves and others, and discuss these issues with other students, faculty and staff; however, I think it is equally valuable to promote self-reflection as well. I hope that the essay contest will be a nice complement to the other initiatives we have been starting on campus.”

The idea for an essay competition came from assistant professor of biology, Rajinikanth Mohan, Ph.D., and Klein after attending the One Book program where participants read “So You Want to Talk about Race” by Ijeoma Oluo.

They decided that action was necessary and so they worked with assistant professor of sociology Nicole John-Danzell, Ph.D. and senior Business and Competitive Intelligence major, Marina Boyle, to bring the idea to fruition. They also gained support from assistant professor of English, Joanne Hosey-McGurk, Ph.D.

“We are a diverse team of faculty members and students and all the planning, organization and evaluation of the essays are team decisions,” said Mohan. “The student organizers are the heart of the team, have been instrumental in the advertisement of the event and are the driving force behind the execution of this event.”

The group was awarded one of three mini-grants from the Office of Mission to help make their proposal a reality. More funds were also provided by the International Student Office, and together, this money will support the cash prizes to be given to the award recipients.

The best three essay will be receiving prizes of $150, $100 and $75, while also being eligible for publication in the Erie Times News, The Merciad and other local and regional newspapers, as the judges see fit. The rewards of participation go beyond just monetary gain, according to Boyle.

“From a student perspective, I feel that this contest is a great way to get your voice heard and to give the administration concrete ideas about how to foster change that resonates with your personal experience and the student experience at Mercyhurst,” said Boyle. “I hope students participate in or[1]der to share their encounters and challenges in terms of diversity, inclusion and antiracism, as well as sparking a conversation around these issues. The cash prizes are just an added bonus.”

Essays will be judged by the competition organizers on the basis of quality of writing, contest, originality and creativity of the proposed changes.

“We are looking for entries where students speak their hearts, articulate their concerns regarding diversity, inclusivity and race and express clear-cut ideas for social change,” Mohan said.

To enter the competition, students should check out the official rules on the Be the Change web page on the Hub. Essays should be no more than 900 words and address the following three areas: personal reflections on the themes of diversity, inclusivity and antiracism; ideas of action; and why change is essential.

All essays should include an attention-grabbing title, but student names or any other identifiers should be omitted from the file itself. Documents should be attached to an email as a PDF file and to no later than March 19 at 11:59 p.m.

Please ensure that the body of the email contains the participant’s name, major(s), minor(s) and year. The email subject should read “Essay Contest Entry.” The time to enter is quickly coming to an end, so make sure to get your submission in soon so you too can be part of the change.