Playwright Ntozake Shange to address Diversity Conference at Fairfield University

Ntozake Shange, one of the brightest stars among distinguished Black writers, will be the keynote presenter at the Diversity Conference at Fairfield University on Saturday, January 20.

Ms. Shange captivated audiences with her play, "For colored Girls, Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf," setting her apart as one of the brightest stars in a galaxy of distinguished Black writers. The Broadway play became an international success and led to a best-selling book and then critical acclaim in a television version for PBS.

Ms. Shange made her debut as a major voice in American fiction with her novel, "Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo." Other novels, including "Betsey Brown," which has been adapted for the stage, and "Liliane: Resurrection of the Daughter," established her as a major African American woman novelist. In a demonstration of her versatily and range of talent she has written "Three Pieces," three extraordinary plays that integrate poetry, dance and music, evoking powerful images of Black life in America today with all its exuberance and beauty.

Her work has been nominated for Tony, Grammy, Obie and Emmy awards and she has been described as "a representative for Blacks, for women, and indeed for all those who are struggling to find their own voice."

Three Fairfield University students who say experiences with diversity have changed their lives, are planning the Conference. Michael Franz, a senior majoring in politics who serves on the Fairfield RTM; Brian Mello, a senior majoring in politics who is the Student Association's vice president of multicultural relations; and Patrick Johnson, a senior nursing major who has worked in the University's Health Promotion Center in Bridgeport, have garnered support from several departments throughout the university, making the conference possible.

Faculty and students to lead panel discussions

The program will present workshops by faculty and students at Fairfield as well as students from New York University and Mount Holyoke College.

NYU students will present a panel on "Segregation on College Campuses" and the Mount Holyoke students will present, "White Racism: How White America Responds to Racial Issues." Professor Brian Torff, program director for jazz at Fairfield University, will present a demonstration on music and diversity and Mosaic, a group of Fairfield U. students from the visual and performing arts, will present poetry and performances on diversity.

Lisa Whitman from Fairfield's Honors Program will conduct a workshop, with other students, on how Fairfield's student body has responded to issues of diversity, while another student, Brant Berndlmaier will present a roundtable discussion on how to overcome being a victim of oppression and exploitation. Dr. David McFadden, associate professor of history, will host a discussion by five visiting Russian students.

Diversity experiences changed students' outlook

In addition to their work on campus to encourage an appreciation for diversity, the three seniors who are organizing the conference say they have been exposed to other cultures through Fairfield's outreach programs. Michael Franz traveled to Tijuana, Mexico with TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism), students who work to encourage understanding and diversity on campus. While he says his own life "has been enriched by an understanding of how other people live and face their own diversity," he also feels that "too often, people, because of their diversity, are exploited. It's important to get at the root of why and how that happens."

Patrick Johnson, who worked in Tijuana through the Campus Ministry's Mission Volunteer Program, said while he saw a lot of exploitation in Mexico, "there was also community and cultural growth." He has found the same is true in his work in Bridgeport through the Health Promotion Center. "It's amazing to see people of various backgrounds and how strong they are." His exposure to other cultures has been invaluable, he feels. "Awareness is one thing; experience is even greater."

Brian Mello traveled to Northern Ireland with TEAM last year, just before the peace agreement was signed, taking part in a cultural immersion program. He learned first-hand about the conflict and met some of the key players of the protests.

Any area students or school officials who are interested in attending the conference are encouraged to call Brian Mello at (203) 254-4000, ext. 3868, or Mike Franz at (203) 256-6219.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647,

Posted on February 1, 1999

Vol. 31, No. 151A

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