Word on Wednesday Fosters Crucial Safe Space on Campus

Photo by Ami Katagiri

On Wed. January 25, The Word on Wednesday met in the Kerckhoff Art Gallery for their weekly open mic. The Word is one of the nine “series” of the Cultural Affairs Commission, a student group that strives to connect its attendees through their lived experiences. The Word opens its doors every Wednesday for anyone who wants to share any form of creative expression. While generally a space for spoken word poetry, The Word has also been a platform for music, beat-boxing, stand-up comedy, and even simply venting about one’s day.

After The Word, I talked with Leila Malikyar, a fourth-year senior who began attending The Word her sophomore year, and is now the host of the space. I asked her about the importance of spaces such as The Word on our campus and she explained that “UCLA’s campus is huge, and it’s easy to feel small and very ‘Other’ in relation to many here. The importance of The Word lies in the fact that it is so intimate a space that people find community within it. Acceptance and solidarity are of the utmost importance, and The Word never fails to provide that energy because everyone is so open and ready to listen. Especially in light of our new president, a safe and loving space like The Word can have astoundingly positive effects on the students who attend.”

And this was evident in the space — while the Kerckhoff Art Gallery is small, by the time the open mic began the room was completely full, with some people sitting on the floor, or huddling in the back of the room. As each new performer walked to the stage, some seemed nervous and hesitant and others were confident. However, they were all supported by snaps and cheers from the audience before, throughout, and at the end of their pieces.

At one point, one of the attendees recited a poem in which they intended to talk about the ways in which they had overcome prejudices against African-Americans, but instead used problematic language that fetishized African-Americans and ultimately made many of the other attendees uncomfortable. Malikyar said after that poem, “I froze, and wondered if I should say anything in response to [the performer.] It was uncomfortable for me, but… I expressed the importance of the language that we use in this space and opened the room up for discussion and asked if anybody had any responses. Attendees responded to the poet in respectful ways and the poet was very receptive to the conversation. The safeness of The Word allowed for the candidness of that conversation, and I think that reflects on The Word’s ability to foster important and at times uncomfortable dialogue in addition to self-expression.”

In order to have these difficult but crucial dialogues, it is imperative we have spaces in which people can teach and learn from each other in non-judgemental environments. The Word on Wednesday and the support of its attendees have created this exact space – one of truth and connection, of support and empowerment. Here, I am reminded of Paulo Freire’s words from Pedagogy of the Oppressed: “There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world.”

The Word on Wednesday meets every Wednesday in Kerckhoff Art Gallery from 7 to 9 p.m. and is open to anyone who would like to perform or just sit back and listen.

 

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