[Featured image: Diverse-City 2020 brought the SMU community virtually around the world in 15 days. Here, participants created their own Japanese nagomi art.]
By Britney Lilianty Putri, Undergraduate, SMU School of Economics, and Lai Yin, Undergraduate, SMU School of Social Sciences
During the recruitment of the Diverse-City (DC) Organising Committee, we had a shining vision to produce an exciting, fun-filled physical cultural festival—similar to previous years’. However, the arrival of Covid-19 resulted in the inevitable cancellation of many university events, and DC was no exception.
But we had a passion to promote diversity and cultural inclusion to the SMU community, so we decided to organise a virtual event instead.
This would be SMU’s very first attempt at such an iteration—a ground-breaking one—so we, as event co-chairs, had to not only reassure our team that it would work out fine, but convince ourselves at the same time!
The previous DC instalments had all been thoroughly successful with enthusiastic participation from our community, so there were high expectations placed on this year’s event. SMU’s “Internationalisation-At-Home” initiative also meant that apart from just showcasing interesting cultural activities, we had to ensure the theme of bringing the world to SMU was carried through via programme collaborations with different cultural CCA clubs, the Diversity, Inclusion & Integration team, SMU International Office, SMU Libraries, Wee Kim Wee Centre and the Prinsep Street Residences. This seemed quite daunting for us at first.
In the initial ideation stages, we focused on website activities and virtual workshops and presented these to our managers and staff mentors from the Diversity, Inclusion and Integration team, who were very supportive of our ideas. They felt it would be a good idea to tap on the expertise of an event company to build our website. We were glad to eventually partner with our external vendor, Maverique, as they had the professional and creative capabilities to actualise our ideas.
Virtual country tours, art and cooking workshops, and dialogues
One of the initial challenges we faced was communicating effectively with the various clubs and SMU offices because of the limitations of virtual meetings, but we soon got the hang of it.
Another thing that concerned us was whether our committee members would gain the ‘ICON experience’ and bond (ICON being short for SMU International Connections—a committee under SMU Students’ Association focused on championing integration efforts on campus). Thankfully we overcame this too by making it a point to have ‘heart-to-heart’ sessions after our weekly online meetings. Although we were operating virtually 100 per cent of the time, we came up with creative ways to bond and experience the fun and warmth of the ICON family. We celebrated each other’s birthdays and allocated time for virtual retreats, where we played online bonding games like Spyfall and Avalon! As time went by, our organising committee members started to open up to one another. We even had a daily ‘Hall of Shame’ from our Instagram Daily Pictionary Challenge, where our marketing directors singled out funny answers submitted by team members and shared them in our chat group. Despite the sometimes stressful moments, we still found many occasions to have a good laugh together!
Diverse-City 2020 co-chairs Britney (top row, 2nd from left) and Lai Yin (top row, 4th from left) and the organising committee being quirky together after a virtual team meeting
One defining moment for us was during an online meeting between Maverique and our staff managers, where we presented our ideas for the event. We were pleasantly surprised at how supportive and excited they were at most of our ideas and how quickly we could move on to discuss how to best execute and present them on the website. It was definitely assuring for us as a team, as we felt a sense of accomplishment that our brainstorming sessions paid off!
Through this journey, we learnt to respect, support and encourage each other. It has been truly heartwarming to see how much each of our team members has grown in the past four months. To top it off, Diverse-City 2020 turned out to be a smashing success!
We would especially like to thank our managers from the Diversity, Inclusion & Integration team for being there and guiding us throughout this entire learning journey. It just goes to show that it does not matter what format our event takes; as long as we have the heart and passion to do something well, we can succeed!