By Ruth Steinhardt
Experienced activist and organizer Eunice “Eunz” Dollete has joined the George Washington University Office of Diversity, Equity and Student Engagement as inaugural assistant director for cultural programming and social justice education.
Dollete will take charge of many critical initiatives, including co-creating cultural programming spaces and events that celebrate and honor community members’ cultural traditions and expressions. They also will facilitate social justice education, the active practice of bringing people together to build collective knowledge and strategies for building a more connected and more equitable community and world.
“We have the ability and responsibility to proactively engage our students in meaningful, transformative and affirming ways, and the creation of this role is intended to do just that,” Associate Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement Jordan West said. “Our students deserve an experience that challenges and takes care of their hearts and minds in order to truly develop the leaders we want at GW.
“Our students are carrying multiple identities and lived experiences, and we have the ability to engage in intentional programming that not only says, ‘we see and feel you,’ but also shows students their fullest potential in authentic ways. I believe this role is powerful and has the potential to change how students experience GW, particularly those with historically marginalized and excluded identities in higher education. I know Eunice is the right person to move this work forward, and their presence, impact and love for this work and the community has already been felt.”
“Social justice education is an invitation to exercise curiosity, learn and make mistakes, sharpen our ability to think critically, hold multiple truths and engage in healthy conflict,” Dollete said.
Dollete has already overseen the kickoff of various cultural programming and social justice education programs and initiatives, with more to come this fall. These include a monthly open mic night for GW student artists and creatives of all types; a GW faculty social justice speaker series during which an interdisciplinary panel of GW scholars will address particular social issues; “snack time” and street food events that highlight and celebrate various identities, cultures, food and practices; cultural film screenings; and an upcoming social justice retreat for student leaders.
Before coming to GW, Dollete took on multiple advocacy and leadership roles at their alma mater, Clark University, addressing systemic issues that included food insecurity. Some of the events they now oversee use food and storytelling as vehicles for creating meaningful space and interactions. At the weekly Breaking Bread series, held Wednesday evenings, all GW students are invited to engage in thoughtful dialogue about a timely discussion topic related to identity and social issues, while also sharing a hot meal. The first three Breaking Bread discussions focused on cancel culture, class, and religion; upcoming discussions will focus on disability and gender, among other topics.
“These are spaces in which we help equip students with the skills and tools to be able to think critically about different issues and deepen their relationship with themselves, communities and broader society,” Dollete said. “And they are also spaces where we recognize and respond to the fact that students are full people, with full needs.”
Dollete said they find that sharing their unique experiences and their identity as a queer person of color creates openness to vulnerability—encouraging those in the GW community to share language around identities, grow, connect and build empathy.
In Dollete’s initial conversations with students when leading workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion at New Student Orientation, they said, “it was clear that students felt like they had permission to be vulnerable because we created space to talk about the identities we hold, how they show up at GW and our responsibility to each other in creating a culture where we can bring all of who we are.”
Dollete, who has a background as an artist and DJ, said creativity and adaptation, both necessary to their artistic development, have also been essential in their role at GW that has already begun expanding and evolving just a month into the semester.
“Part of this work is allowing students to be part of the process, to co-create,” Dollete said. “I'm already starting to gain input from students about ways they would like to enhance and build upon existing programs and events that ODECE offers."
Some students return to events like Breaking Bread week after week, stop by the Multicultural Student Center more often and attend additional programming hosted by ODECE and MSSC. Some bring friends.
“There isn't a certain expertise or prior knowledge that's needed to be able to participate in Breaking Bread,” Dollete said. “Anybody can enter the space and fully participate in learning about different opinions, perspectives and beliefs. We even expect folks to be able to disagree. All that’s needed is for you to show up authentically, with the perspective that only you have.”
Dollete envisions their role as an opportunity to create inclusive spaces where students are invited, encouraged and supported to build community, expand their understanding of historical and social issues, heal and make positive changes at GW and beyond.
“I see it as an honor to be able to facilitate and initiate these spaces, and I want people to feel like every single interaction is actually an invitation,” Dollete said. “We're all changing humans; we learn and change every day.”