REIA hosts year-end hurrah

Empowerment gala recognizes racialized students, celebrates cultures and diversity

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The Racial Equity and Inclusion Alliance (REIA), a student-led community group at the U of M which started operations in the fall of 2023, hosted their first Empowerment Gala to recognize and celebrate the diverse cultures at the U of M on Sunday, March 31. 

The gala awarded racialized students and staff based on various accomplishments, such as athletic excellence and sportsmanship, academic excellence, achievement in visual and/or performing arts, accomplishment in impact-driven advocacy and effective representation and achievements bettering the racialized community on campus by a first or second year student. 

Dinner and desserts were provided for attendees. The desserts, which were served buffet-style, were provided by various racialized businesses around Winnipeg and included things like alfajores by Munch It Pastry Shop and mini-Japanese-style cheesecakes by Rika Cheese Garden. 

Throughout the evening, several cultural groups such as BIBAK Association of Manitoba, a group dedicated to preserving and promoting BIBAK culture and Dynamite Dance Crew, a dance troupe that highlights Afro-Caribbean style dancing, also took to the dance floor to perform. 

While REIA has hosted numerous community assemblies with different cultural groups to learn more about them and their goals for the year, like lunch and learn events with different community groups and initiatives to raise funds for a racialized student scholarship, the gala presented an opportunity for racialized students to celebrate diversity, according to Dina Hamid, REIA co-events coordinator. 

“I think it just allowed us to really embrace our culture, which sometimes we aren’t able to do going to a Western school in Canada,” Hamid told the Manitoban.

Attendees of the night were encouraged to wear their cultural clothing to the event, an encouragement that many took kindly to — such as Hamid herself, who wore her traditional attire, a thobe.

“I don’t think I’ve ever attended a gala like that and I’m really honoured to be able to organize it with Dina and it was definitely a successful event,” said Allisther De Castro, founder and co-president of REIA and current UMSU racialized student representative. 

“We’ve been planning, or thinking, about having our own racialized gala since the very beginning of the school year and I’m really glad that we made it happen and I’m just so happy that I saw a lot of students representing where they came from.” 

 De Castro also said that she’s received a lot of comments from people expressing how happy they were that they were able to “showcase their culture at an academic institution.”

Beyond celebrating the different cultures at the U of M, De Castro said she really wanted to ensure as many people as possible could attend the event without money being a barrier, which is why the empowerment gala was completely free for students to attend. 

“I’m just really grateful for everyone who supported an alliance that I started,” said De Castro. 

“We’ve had so many students support us along the way, go to our events, and I’m really glad to see them at our big final event.”