HumEcathon takes on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Screen capture of the virtual Humecathon

The College of Human Ecology held its fourth annual HumEcathon, a hackathon-style design challenge, on May 1, bringing together 27 undergraduates to work in multidisciplinary teams on this year’s topic of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives on campus.

Organized by the Dean’s Undergraduate Advisory Council (DUAC), the event was inspired by an information session for prospective students that had stuck with the members of DUAC.

“While a lot of other colleges have large information sessions, we had a very small, intimate setting where we were seated with four or five other prospective students,” Isabella Harnick, (PAM ’21), event co-founder, organizer, and Co-President of DUAC recalled.

“We shared our interests and what we hoped to achieve, then Bernadette Parr [associate director of admissions] connected our interests and goals. If I want to achieve my goal of improving the patient experience, for example, we don’t just need policy majors like me designing policy interventions, we also need fashion designers creating more patient-friendly hospital gowns, nutrition majors influencing diet to further public health, and the rest of our Human Ecology majors working together to holistically achieve this lofty goal from every angle.

“We loved that sentiment and came out with such energy and excitement to attend Human Ecology. The HumEcathon was a way for us to simulate that experience, highlight our interdisciplinary nature, and continue to further the mission of the college.”

The first two years of the event, student design teams, which must include students from more than one major, were asked to work on climate change and the opioid epidemic, but last year’s HumEcathon took a more local turn when students were asked to strategize reopening campus in the midst of the pandemic.

This year students were asked how CHE can promote DEI inside and outside of the classroom.

“COVID and everything that has happened in the past year has really brought the spotlight to historical injustices that have long been overlooked,” Harnick said. “There's this rejuvenated enthusiasm to discuss and make change in society at-large, and of course, that applies to the college.”

During the hackathon, judges Dean Rachel Dunifon, Associate Dean Marianella Casasola (HD), Professor Margaret Frey (FSAD), and Associate Professor Eve De Rosa (HD) were joined by Professors Maureen Waller (PAM) and Corinna Loeckenhoff (HD and associate professor of gerontology at Weill Cornell) for team consultations, looking to push student ideas further toward the kind of specificity that can lead to implementation. 

The event, which began Friday at 4 p.m. and ended Saturday at 3 p.m., culminated in an award ceremony recognizing the winners of the Judges' Choice Award and People’s Choice Award (voted on by participating students). The judges chose the “Martha’s on the Move” team, consisting of first years Emma Shen (DEA), Andreas Psahos (PAM), Laura Burd (HBHS), Riya Patel (PAM) and Kiran Ganga (HBHS). They focused on food insecurity on campus and in Tompkins County, utilizing Martha’s Café space in off-hours to host a seven-week, 1-credit course that would bring in faculty from across CHE to discuss how their field interacts with food justice and DEI. Students would then prepare recipes from around the world, half of which would be distributed to food insecure people in Tompkins County and the other half made available to students.

Presentation title Martha's on the move

Winning presentation, "Martha's on the Move".

The People’s Choice Award went to team “Mosaic” members, Vaidehi Raman (PAM ’23), Sahib Kaila (DNS ’24), and Ishan Shah (HBHS ’24) from CHE, Ryan Leung (’23) from Hotel Administration, and Justin Zhang (’23) and Joyce Wu (’24) from the College of Arts and Sciences. They proposed an app that would gather campus-wide DEI information, initiatives, events, and learning opportunities into an easily accessible forum for students to connect with each other, find resources, and participate in conversations moderated by Intergroup Dialogue Project students who are trained to lead sensitive discussions.

Screen shot of virtual Humecathon people's Choice presentation

People's Choice Award presentation, "Mosaic".

“Students were really excited for the opportunity to have these discussions and to create actionable change within our college,” Harnick said. “Knowing that the administration is hearing these ideas and they have the potential to actually be implemented is a big part of that excitement, because we don't just want ideas. We want actions.”

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