Through the Student Lens – The Marshall Center: “a home away from home”

Where can all students find a campus space that fosters an inclusive learning environment and promotes critical thinking, community engagement, and personal development—a safe space where students of color can be seen, validated and amplified? Meet one student who fondly refers to the Marshall Center as a “home away from home” and take a look Through the Student Lens.

Kneeco Hanton ’21
Major: Music / Minor: Anthropology
Hometown: South Bronx in New York City, NY

What would you like others to know about the importance of the Marshall Center for Intercultural Learning?
The Marshall Center, as a structural part of Wheaton College, is at the forefront of establishing and protecting the right to humanity within this community. The center is dedicated to engaging our community in learning across our cultural differences. As the Marshall Center itself states, the center “offers a safe space for students of color to be seen, validated, and amplified as the center honors the intersections of these student’s experiences and identities.” The Marshall Center also states that it “exists to affirm these unique identities, to build a community that draws from them, and to cultivate leaders who will introduce to the world the value of human diversity,” believing that “each and every member of the Wheaton community has a role and responsibility in this process.” That being said, although centering the voices, experiences, and needs of students of color at Wheaton and within the greater community serves as the foundation of the center, this does not mean that the Marshall Center only wants to know and care about students of color; it is at the forefront of cultivating antiracist behavior on campus, but we all have access to connecting with, collaborating with, and learning from the Marshall Center, as it provides a designated space for this kind of community commitment.

You recently won first place in the Creativity Showcase at the MLK Legacy Celebration. Congratulations! Could you briefly describe your work and how it relates to the Wheaton community and beyond?
Thank you so much for the support and recognition! When I thought about my project for the MLK Creativity Showcase, I had in mind that I wanted to imagine I split into the two halves of my ethnic identity (African-American and Boricua). These two identities would have a conversation with each other about their experiences and reveal that these experiences as a result of anti-Blackness are not too dissimilar. Their combined experiences are the reasons why I actively engage in the arts as well as community and organizational work (hence the song’s title, “Why I Do What I Do”), so this project in the meta describes my experiences with anti-Blackness and racial justice. Like my very existence, the African-American community and the Puerto Rican community are connected in the struggle for liberation. Just as there was the Black Panther Party, there was the Young Lords Party. Just as Martin Luther King (MLK) gave speeches to motivate the masses, so did Pedro Albizu Campos (PAC). I believe that MLK and PAC would have worked in solidarity to support both of their peoples if the two leaders were still alive, and I attempt to express this through their speeches. MLK states, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and so we look to Puerto Rico, where PAC encourages us to “bring down the despotism of the United States.” Perhaps this forbidden alliance is the legacy we are meant to materialize ourselves, and we must materialize this reality within our community here at Wheaton College because we should strive to promote solidarity in the unified liberation of all oppressed peoples. A lot of my music seeks to reinforce the importance of providing access and advocacy for identities whose voices our society actively seeks to control and silence, therefore this project carries a direct connection to the purpose I have now and will continue to have beyond Wheaton.

How has the Marshall Center engaged students during COVID?
The Marshall Center has engaged students during COVID in a plethora of ways. For one, I do recall that the Marshall Center, in collaboration with the OHM Initiative (a Theme House that strives for a more inclusive community within the STEM field and specifically relates to individuals with marginalized or underrepresented identities) hosted virtual study sessions a month after the campus shut down last year. This, of course, provided students with the opportunity to reconnect, find joy, and maintain community in times of despair and uncertainty. Going virtual also provided the Marshall Center with the opportunity to host various panels, lectures, and workshops featuring Wheaton alumni of color, which created an opportunity for current students to connect with the greater alumni community. The Marshall Center also adapted its in-person traditional events for the virtual settings. Such adaptations include a virtual Early Arrival Orientation Program for incoming first year students as they started the Fall 2020 semester (in which I served as an Early Arrival Assistant) and the virtual Intergroup Dialogues. Additionally, the Marshall Center has held virtual Healing and Processing Spaces for students to address their feelings and responses to injustices occurring within our national and international communities.

Please describe an instance where you saw the positive impact that the Marshall Center has had on you or a fellow member, or multiple members in the Wheaton community.
The Marshall Center had a hand in developing the Disaster and Reconstruction: A Field Course in Post-Hurricane Maria Reconstruction and Gender program, a course in which I was a student under the instruction of Marshall Center Dean, Raquel Ramos and Professor M. Gabriela Torres. Participating in this course as a student provided me with the opportunity to travel to Puerto Rico for the first time at the age of 20, an experience I was unable to have prior to this course due to financial inaccessibility. The course was a meaningful and life changing experience on so many levels. For one, the course gave me the space and opportunity to focus on something that is both an integral part of my being and an issue I care about immensely, which involves assisting in the liberation of Puerto Rico from U.S. imperialism as well both as the current effects of U.S. colonialism and the legacy of Spanish colonialism as well. I felt a sense of affirmation and validation from Professor Torres and the Marshall Center’s involvement because the issues of what is happening in Puerto Rico as a result of the U.S. often fall on deaf ears. For me, participating in the course made real the desire and severity of demanding support and independence for Puerto Rico, which I took with me after the course when I made the decision to join the New York chapter of the Boricua Resistance, a grassroots organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Puerto Ricans within the diaspora and their allies towards a free and anti-imperialist Puerto Rico. I also did not realize the way in which this course gave me an opportunity to practice ethnomusicology as I had worked on my final project, so I am very much grateful to Professor Torres and Dean Ramos for the ways I grew.

What is your favorite aspect of the Marshall Center and being involved in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)?
I believe that, even at a place like Wheaton that prides itself on cultivating and maintaining a sense of community, it is still easy and very much possible for students of color to feel that their experiences and wellbeing do not matter. There is often an invisibility, a hypervisibility, and a lack of consideration of humanity that students of color experience and these realities add to the obstacles of obtaining an undergraduate degree. My favorite aspect of the Marshall Center and its involvement in DEI is in the ways I have felt, seen, honored, and recognized within the space of the center. Other than being within my greater beloved South Bronx, I had yet to be in a space that I considered a home, even within a private place of residence. However, particularly because of the relationship I developed with Dean Ramos, I found “a home away from home,” if you will. The Marshall Center has always been a place I could escape to if I needed to feel a sense of belonging, love, and value towards my wellbeing. The Marshall Center has always been somewhere I could go to clear my head, to reevaluate my circumstances, and figure out a new course of action. The Marshall Center has always been my home base, and I am grateful for this home base.

Through the Student Lens

Kneeco is just one of the many talented students here at Wheaton. As parents, you are an integral part of our community. Through the Student Lens brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and experiences they gain during the time here at Wheaton.