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Unity Week returns to in-person events at Holy Cross as speakers, students share lived experiences

Students, inspired by previous events, started organizing this year’s Unity Week in August.
April 11th, 2022 by 

Students, from left, Juan Trillo '25, Anna Lee ’24 and Jaime Perez ’23 hold a sign displayed outside of the the Hogan Campus Center during Unity Week at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA., Thursday, April 7, 2022. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Holy Cross)

Anna Lee ’24 experienced her first Unity Week at the College of the Holy Cross through the lens of a computer. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted most events on campus to virtual gatherings populated by small boxes on a screen.

Still, the words from Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, captivated Lee last year. 

“We had an intimate Zoom session with her. She answered all our questions. She was very personable,” Lee said. “And I think a lot of people who were there didn’t know a lot of the things she spoke about. When we left, we had this greater understanding of a purpose that I think we only knew a surface level of.”

This year Unity Week continued to expand that understanding as it shifted back to in-person gatherings. Lee is now part of the Student Government Association leadership team that organized the events that included bringing to campus Jose Antonio Vargas, who authored “Dear America: Notes from an Undocumented Citizen” and Chanel Miller, whose best-selling memoir, “Know My Name” was named book of the year by “Time.”

Lee hopes the speakers’ messages to students had a similar impact to what she felt during her first Unity Week experience. 

“I hope students take away a greater responsibility for their place on campus. The motto of Holy Cross is ‘men and women, with and for others.’ But I would say as you get immersed in schoolwork, extracurricular activities, you tend to forget that,” Lee said. “I would hope that Unity Week would serve as a reminder for the real reason we’re here, the reason why many of us choose to go to this school in the first place is because someone saw potential that we could fulfill that mission. I want to remind people this is why you’re here.”

Lee and fellow SGA Co-Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Jaime Perez ’23 began planning Unity Week before students arrived for the fall semester in August. 

While the keynote speakers often garner much of the spotlight, orchestrating Unity Week includes everything from wifi connectivity to what food allergies guests may have. 

“The most difficult thing is actually the little logistics,” Lee said. 

To assist Perez and Lee, two students – Juan Trillo ’25 and Arianna Moore ’24 – interned to help ensure the week ran as smoothly as possible. 

Lee also credited SGA Co-Presidents Maggie Ober ’22 and Connor McNerney ’22, SGA Chief of Staff Karter Seitz ’22 and Associate Director of Student Involvement Patrick Rogers for contributing to the core planning of the week’s events. 

Trillo, a first-year student from New York City, participated in similar committees in high school, but nothing to the scale of Unity Week on The Hill. 

“It’s humbling in a way. We’re all kind of working on this together as a community,” Trillo said. “It’s a privilege to be able to be in this position and to be able to help facilitate that growth and that education for the wider campus community.”

There are about 3,100 students at Holy Cross. About one-quarter are students of color and international students. 

Lee, a woman of color who also identifies as a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, said her experience on campus is likely different from some of her classmates. Unity Week is an opportunity for all students to learn about others’ lived experiences. 

“No one really talks about that and I think Unity Week is one way to air everything out and say everything that needs to be said. It’s a safe space so there’s no fear of repercussion or anything. Sometimes it feels a little threatening to talk about these things,” Lee said. “I think providing a little window into the marginalized experience of a Holy Cross student here, showing that not everyone has a fantastic four years because it can be tough, is one way of helping the community grow.”

Understanding and growth are the pillars of Unity Week. 

Revealing these experiences can spark empathy, which then can create unity among Holy Cross’ diverse community.

“Being on a college campus is a privilege for a lot of people,” Trillo said. “So I think that Unity Week offers a space for people to learn a little about that privilege and navigate those different levels and learn how they can be more involved.”

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