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All Hail the Queen

FABRIC 2018 expresses HMS commitment to unity, diversity and equity. 

“Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I’m gonna love who I am.” 

So sang students from the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine class of 2021 as they performed an impassioned cover of the song “Q.U.E.E.N.” by recording artist Janelle Monáe during the opening number of FABRIC 2018, held in the TMEC atrium on April 13.

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Now in its 18th year, FABRIC expresses the School’s commitment to diversity, unity and equity through an array of artistic performances inspired by the African diaspora. The production is presented during Revisit Weekend, when accepted students from groups underrepresented in medicine have the opportunity to take another look at HMS before making their final decision on where to attend medical school.

A month and a half of work came to fruition with 19 original acts produced and directed by first-year students. 

The evening’s program celebrated many of the facets of diversity at HMS, including race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, immigration status, political ideology and religious belief.

The emotional tenor spanned a similarly broad range, at times joyous, furious, inspirational, mournful and determined.

For all their variety, the performances were tied together by a single theme: rèn, the Haitian Creole word for “queen.” 

The FABRIC production team explained that this year’s theme “uplifts women of color, a historically marginalized community in the fields of medicine and dentistry.”

Fittingly, female empowerment took center stage in multiple forms throughout the evening.

‘I contain multitudes’

Small- and large-group numbers showcased both traditional and modern music and dance, from the Afro-Latin rhythms of Cuba and bhangra remixes out of South Asia to Palestinian Dabke folk dance and a drag show inspired by black and Latinx queer and transgender youth.

Spoken-word performances struck powerful chords with audience members. Jacqueline Harris and Aisha Ba performed a work they wrote together, called “Imagine an African Queen.” Parsa Erfani received an extended ovation for an electrifying recitation of his original work, “To Be a Muslim Immigrant in America.”

In a sobering tribute to missing and murdered indigenous women, David Bunn performed “To the Indigenous Woman” by artist Ryan Red Corn (Osage), after which Dana Vigue performed “Your Eyes They Curve Around Me” by poet-activist Helen Knott (Dane-zaa/Cree), while behind them hung an empty red dress.

Sameen Meshkin lifted spirits when he played traditional Persian music on the santoor, an instrument similar to a hammered dulcimer. He dedicated the song to the global Bahá’í community.

Kasey Ha later brought the house down with her fierce demonstration of Chinese martial arts known as wushu. She also choreographed a wushu performance enacted by five classmates.

Image: Steve Lipofsky

The evening also featured not one but two fashion shows. Arranged by Ayotomiwa Ojo and Okechi Boms and starring dozens of students, the runway performances returned to the root of FABRIC—which was originally conceived as a fashion show celebrating diverse garments of the African diaspora—while also making strong statements about contemporary U.S. and global politics.

That was no coincidence.

“We chose this theme [rèn] as a means of artistic resistance and empowerment in the face of an increasingly complex political and social climate in the U.S. today,” said Leela Breitman, who introduced the show with fellow directors Kruti Vora and Jordan Peterson and producer Natalie Williams.

Beyond FABRIC

Each year, the FABRIC team recognizes one faculty member and one staff member for their dedication to furthering diversity and supporting students at HMS.

This year’s recipients were:

  • Denise Brown, staff assistant in the HMS Office of Student Affairs, recognized for her fierce advocacy, hard work and maternal approach to student care
     
  • Sherri-Ann Burnett-Bowie, faculty assistant dean for student affairs and assistant director of the HMS Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs, recognized for developing programs intended to eliminate bias toward underrepresented minorities in medicine

As Revisit Weekend activities continued, current HMS students, faculty and staff gathered on Saturday to share what the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs means to them, the impact of the multicultural student alliance and how they use their collective voice at the School. Some of their responses were captured in the video below.

Video: Rick Groleau and Mary Tate