Arts

SOAR for the Summer: First Wave in and outside of the classroom

From left to right, new-student leaders Selin Gok, Kennedie King and Justin Sparapani -- who are also members of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community -- present an emotional performance based on themes of oppression and acceptance in front of a group of  incoming first-year undergraduates during a Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) session at Union South at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on June 20, 2016. Sponsored by the Center for the First-Year Experience, the two-day SOAR sessions provide new students and their parents and guests an opportunity to meet with staff and advisors, register for classes, stay in a residence hall, take a campus tour and learn about campus resources. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)
From left to right, new-student leaders Selin Gok, Kennedie King and Justin Sparapani -- who are also members of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community -- present an emotional performance based on themes of oppression and acceptance in front of a group of incoming first-year undergraduates during a Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) session at Union South at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on June 20, 2016. Sponsored by the Center for the First-Year Experience, the two-day SOAR sessions provide new students and their parents and guests an opportunity to meet with staff and advisors, register for classes, stay in a residence hall, take a campus tour and learn about campus resources. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison) Image By: Jeff Miller and Jeff Miller

I found First Wave long before I saw my senior graduation. Halfway across the country, there was a piece of the world that seemed almost fitting. A program that extends far beyond its years, First Wave and the Office of Multicultural Arts continue the fight for diversity. Constructed on three pillars of arts, activism and academics, First Wave strives to be impactful both on the stage and in the classroom.

The mission has always remained the same. With performances like SOAR during the summer, the mission grows with campus climate. The Center for the First-Year Experience (CFYE) and First Wave have repeatedly created conversations that are centered around the idea of race, privilege and oppression. The topics that continue to dictate our daily lives are brought directly to us before the beginning of our freshmen year. In preparation for the shift outside of high school, SOAR and its First Wave interns change the dynamic of what and how interactions can alter our perception of ourselves and those that do not resemble us. There are layers in and outside of the 20-minute performances that have continued dialogue as we see how the inclusion of people and place continue to be affected by time and circumstance.

There is never an end to a performance. For myself and the other 13 members of my cohort, the battle has no end because it applies everywhere else ... SOAR is the middle ground between us and how we handle the spaces we occupy. Breaking into groups afterwards truly shows how impactful, physical presence applies to the state of knowing and asking. As an incoming freshman at the time, I learned how quickly I can be wrong and how easy it can be to forget the vital reasons for programs like SOAR—programs that exist and extend beyond registering for classes. SOAR stands on its own as a way to prepare incoming students for the journey ahead that may not always have their best interest in mind, or other times, when that journey forgets we’ve been walking the same trail, too.

UW-Madison’s campus climate faces issues that are not solely limited to race and diversity. First Wave and its SOAR interns have also been cautious in their approach at talking about other issues such as depression, anxiety and sexual harassment. The level of concern for an individual in any given environment, whether a classroom, a party or an event, asks us to respect and acknowledge the ability and potential of physical, mental or emotional harm. For a program like First Wave to establish themselves in a space that forgets us much of the time, we build bonds long after the performance has ended. SOAR reminds us to reach a new common goal, establish conversations to ask why and always reach new potentials within our understanding of outside communities. SOAR has taught us that the ability to understand and reflect on the differences that shape us are the reasons why we shape UW-Madison.

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