Students and faculty celebrate cultures and difference with Language in Action Day


UNC Asheville’s Modern Languages and Literatures department hosted the first annual Languages in Action Day between Mills Hall and Highsmith Union on Thursday.
“We have done this for two reasons: giving language students a sense of pride and a way to show off their hard work, and to hold a public forum,” said Michelle Bettencourt, associate professor of Spanish and a coordinator of the event.
She said her expectations for the event were exceeded when hundreds of students, staff and administration, including Chancellor Mary Grant, attended.
“We have been working on this since the fall and really wanted to encourage all kinds of expression across skill levels,” Bettencourt said.
This expression included theater, dance, poetry, music, research and food inspired by more than six cultures and languages, she said.
The event lasted approximately three hours.
Tana Johnson, a junior literature student, said she presented a poem she wrote and translated into Spanish at the event.
“I think this is a good way to spread culture and get people involved,” Johnson said.
Johnson said another aspect of the event she enjoyed was the sense of community when presenting.
Jeremias Zunguze, assistant professor of Africana and Lusophone studies and recent addition to the university faculty, founded the Language in Action committee.
“This is really about community building,” Zunguze said. “There are people from so many different languages and cultures, even in a classroom, that you see daily, but you don’t really know.”
Inspired by a program he encountered while attending UC Berkeley, Zunguze said it was his dream to bring people together to celebrate and share languages, cultures and differences.
He said he reached out to Bettencourt and Regine Criser, an assistant professor of German, to create a committee for Language in Action and help to fulfill this dream.
“Current news and political debates divide people and create tension,” Zunguze said. “What I wanted to do was unite the campus and the greater community,”
Attempting to track down every language to participate prior to the event was important, Zunguze said.
“What I learned is that this is possible. Even if you do not understand another language, this is possible — people under the same sun listening to poetry and enjoying expressions from other cultures,” Zunguze said.
Zunguze said Language in Action serves to actively apply languages and cultures in order to form a larger conversation.
Criser said she hopes this event has helped students outside of language classes to appreciate and become excited about language.
“Many people think German might be too hard, or just take language classes to fulfill requirements,” Criser said.
She said this event broke down some stereotypes about language. Learning a language is hard work, Criser said, but it is very fulfilling.
“In a world driven by difference we are showing that we are different, but we came together,” Criser said, “and we are showing how easy this is to do.”