Caryl Phillips, an international award winning author and scholar, will speak to students about racism, identity, inclusivity and his new book “Color Me English: Migration and Belonging Before and After 9/11” at Cal Poly’s University Union on Oct. 6.
“Color Me English,” which Phillips released this July, has received praise both statewide and abroad and was named one of the Most Anticipated Books of Summer 2011 by The Huffington Post.
Phillips is not a newcomer to the world of critical acclaim. He has won a number of awards throughout his literary career, including the Lannan Literary Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Martin Luther King Memorial Prize and the Malcolm X Prize for Literature.
These acknowledgements are testaments to Phillips’ expertise, according to associate vice president for the Division of Student Affairs and ethnic studies professor Denise Sheridan. She said she frequently uses Phillips’ historically-based novel, Dancing in the Dark when teaching ethnic studies classes.
“Phillips is someone who can put things in context in a way that we value because of his knowledge as an author and a playwright and because he has been awarded and recognized in many different circles for his authorship,” Sheridan said. “So we benefit from his perspective, and we benefit from his credibility as an author in general.”
Some of the themes that Phillips puts into context via his writing are race, identity and societal inclusion.
He can also speak on the topic of multiculturalism in terms of his personal experiences.
Phillips was born on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts, grew up in England and currently resides in New York. He has taught internationally at colleges in Sweden, Barbados, Ghana, Singapore and in the United States, and is known for his ability to articulate concepts pertaining to multiculturalism and diversity.
According to statistics published by The California State University Mentor in June 2011, 67 percent of undergraduate students at Cal Poly identify themselves as white. Hispanic students account for 13.2 percent of the undergraduate student body. Asian students make up 10.9 percent, African American students comprise 0.8 percent and Native American students account for 0.6 percent.
Elvira Pulitano, an associate professor for the Ethnic Studies Department and organizer of the event, said she hopes Phillips’ speech will help instigate a campus-wide dialogue about the value of diversity.
“These topics are badly needed because they show that the society we live in today, and this campus indeed, should do more to promote diversity and to try to attract more students of color to this campus,” Pulitano said.
Students are not resistant to embracing multicultural attitudes, but rather, are unaware of an inclusive campus’ value since they have never had the opportunity to experience it, Pulitano said.
Her students’ reactions after studying abroad affirmed Pulitano’s belief that exposure to different cultures creates an interest in diversity for students, she said.
“Regardless of what they are majoring in, they all tell me what a great experience (studying abroad) was,” Pulitano said. “So that, to me, is proof that when something exists that shows the students that there is another reality out there, of course there is interest, because the students are aware of what’s going on. It’s a sign that the students realize that they really need an educational perspective that is lacking here.”
David Conn, associate vice president for the office of inclusive excellence, which is co-sponsoring the event, said he is excited to hear Phillips’ views.
“We have a very, very small black population on this campus – faculty, students or staff,” said Conn. “I think that (the speech) is going to be a wonderful opportunity for students.”
The speech will be at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6 in room 220 of the University Union. It is free and open to the public.