Brunch and Bloom cures the hunger for empowerment


Linh Tran

Sangeetha Rayapati, Mayor of Moline, in a meeting with Alexandra Elias, President and CEO of Renew Moline, at her city hall office.

Victoria Campbell

HerCampus, alongside the Office of Student Inclusion and Diversity (OSID), hosts Shades of Beauty during women’s history month to celebrate the diverse Augustana community. This year, the event will take place on Sunday, March 19 at 12:30 pm in the Gävle rooms. Attending this event is a great way for students to find their authenticity and discover appreciation for differences.  

Director Ashley Allen in the office of student inclusion and diversity (OSID) is the organizer of Shades of Beauty. Prior to joining the OSID staff, Allen worked for admissions. She felt called to work with young adults after doing so in her church as a young adult. 

Working at Augustana College, Allen is able to apply her passion for social justice and diversity through event planning. She believes that attending events is a great way for students to interact with one another and connect.  

“I’ve always tried to find spaces on Augustana’s campus to implement or develop programs that I hadn’t already seen before. And so that was the reason why I started [Shades of Beauty],” Allen said. 

Through Shades of Beauty, Allen works to offer Augustana programming that speaks to the diverse staff and student body. The Augustana campus is making an effort to unify and celebrate what makes each individual unique. 

Laura Kestner-Ricketts, a career coach for Augustana who will be on the panel for the event, is dedicated to helping students find their inner voice. She is determined to help students discover themselves, their goals and dreams. 

“A lot of students have so much pressure that they’re living out someone else’s dream,” Kestner-Ricketts said.

This pressure is something that Sasha Zainal, assistant director of international and off-campus programs as well as a panelist at this event, encountered in her educational life. As a child, Zainal immigrated to the United States from Malaysia. She knew she was different from the other school children and tried hard to change herself for the sake of blending in. 

Zainal felt that her presence was not welcomed because of her culture and background. Experiences like that can make it difficult to seek help at times. Even now, Zainal notices how there is added frustration for some international students to voice their struggles.

“Half of the time, when I talk to the students, they’re going through something, but they don’t know how to articulate it,” Zainal said. 

Sangeetha Rayapati, mayor of Rock Island and Augustana voice professor, believes that Shades of Beauty provides the opportunity for students to learn how to find their voice, which will ultimately help them to overcome their struggles.

“They might find a sense of belonging that they didn’t know they needed, because they hear the stories of other people and find more commonality. I think it’s a building experience, an opportunity for growth, and that’s what you’re here in college to do,” Rayapati said. 

Just like Zainal, Rayapati would sometimes feel a sense of alienation at points of her career. This event creates a way for Rayapati to connect in a positive environment.

“I often was a different shade than many people I’ve been around in my training, my education, even in the workplace at times. And so, [Shades of Beauty is] another opportunity to feel accepted among my own peers,” Rayapati said. 

Director Allen notes how a lot of the time, society puts so much pressure for people to be or look a certain way or fit into a box. For Shades of Beauty, it’s really focusing on every single shade and shape of beauty. 

Her event is dedicated to celebrating women for who they are. These women don’t have to try to fit a certain box. She thinks however the students show up, they’re beautiful in their own way.

The event is not structured in a lecture based way. Allen shares that there will be a brunch and donut station, with a pancake bar and drink bar included. Additionally, there will be giveaways with countless activities included. 

“It’s just the whole experience to celebrate and just bring us all together. We’ll have stations outside the room. We have candle making, canvas painting, different activities and music,” Allen said. 

Students are encouraged to attend the event, not only because it is a place where they can be heard, but also because many people are at a point in the semester where a break is needed. 

Kestner-Ricketts believes that Shades of Beauty is an opportunity for students to practice self care. Amongst sleeping in, taking a nap and doing a ton of homework, this event is a place for students to take time for themselves. 

“When you take a break and step outside of your normal routine, and you’re reminded that you’re just this small thing in this big world. That can be really refreshing and positive and might give you the energy that you need to get through to spring,” Kestner-Ricketts said. 

Shades of Beauty is an opportunity for students to practice professional and personal development. They can connect with their peers from different backgrounds and hear a positive message about what makes a great world and a great person. 

Additionally, all people are encouraged to attend Shades of Beauty regardless of identity. It is primarily a women’s event, not to exclude, but to highlight female voices and celebrate women during women’s history month. 

“While the topics may not all be relevant to someone from a different gender, it doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be anything for them to take away,” Kestner-Ricketts said.

Zainal agrees that everyone has female influences in their lives, and going to Shades of Beauty will ultimately benefit them too. 

The result of attending Shades of Beauty is hopefully for students to discover their own sense of self-definition. It is important for the Augustana community to recognize where their authenticity lies and to stay within the boundaries of what they have determined for themselves. 

“I hope it’ll inspire other young women to know that they can get to where they want to be and [know that] they should be unapologetic of who they are,” Allen said. 

Additionally, Zainal hopes that shades of beauty will encourage students to become more comfortable with themselves.

“You should not care what others think,” Zainal said. “Everybody’s got their own skin and they need to embrace that.”

Along with eliminating self doubt, students should take on habits of fearlessness, according to Rayapati. Lack of fear gives students the opportunity to grow into what they’re capable of. Rayapati inspires students to do the work to get themselves to a point where they can shed that shame. 

“It’s really important to get to a place where you’re not afraid to take risks, because otherwise, you won’t experience what you could,” Rayapati said.