By Gabrielle Wanneh
For The Diamondback

University of Maryland students and faculty gathered Wednesday to celebrate the winners of the "Express Yourself! Race & Racism" student contest.

The Maryland Dialogues on Diversity and Community, an ongoing initiative working to advance discussions of diversity on the campus, hosted the awards celebration for the nine winners. The entries were submitted in March 2017.

One of the purposes of the contest was to get students thinking about producing creative works, such as essays, poems and visual art, to express themselves against exclusionary practices, said Fatemeh Keshavarz, the director of the Roshan Institute for Persian Studies.

Lauretta Clough, the associate director of this university's languages, literatures and cultures school, was one of the jurors in the competition and said she enjoyed reviewing the students' works.

"I loved it because I felt like that it was an intimate connection to people who were putting themselves out there through their words," Clough said.

The celebration acknowledged the students' work, but it also provided a platform for dialogue regarding the aspects of diversity and identity that influenced students' entries.

Chief Diversity Officer Roger Worthington also attended the celebration. Worthington said he was pleased with the submissions and the opportunity to show his support.

"I was very enriched by this," Worthington said.

Keshavarz also announced there will be another "Express Yourself!" contest in 2018, adding that more details would be given at a later date.

Tuesday Barnes, a fourth-year doctoral student studying sociology, was one of the winners. Barnes said she was grateful for the opportunity to express herself creatively, adding she doesn't often feel able to express herself as a graduate student at a prominent research university.

"A lot of research can be isolating, lonely and devoid of creativity," Barnes said. "So to have the opportunity to show my creative side made me really excited."

She also shared "Dey Don't Know," a poem expressing self-love and embracing black value, power and language, she said.

Senior Thomas Tran, a physiology and neurobiology major, was another winner. He submitted an essay titled, "An Account and Analysis of Interracial Humor and Identity."

Tran said the essay explains his personal experiences with race as an Asian-American and addresses the issue of casual racism and humor.

Senior Monique Wingo, a journalism and theatre major, submitted a manifesto against the word "minority" as her submission for the contest. Wingo also performed her submission live during the celebration.

"We use this word with no malice or bad intentions, but instead we use it as a word of empowerment," Wingo said. "And we use this word so proudly that we're completely blind to the fact that the word 'minority' signifies something or someone of lesser value than the rest."

As an African-American woman, Wingo added, she presented her manifesto to bring awareness to the importance of language and the dangers of labeling yourself and others with undignified terms such as "minority".

Other attendees, including Sofia Dinges, showed up in support of the winners. Dinges, a biochemistry and physiology and neurobiology major, said she thinks these events are necessary in order to express creativity and freedom.

"Events like this are important, as well as seeing the creativity that people can use to express themselves like this," Dinges said. "It was really nice listening to people's points of views."