By Ryan O’Connell
The well-traveled vestibule of the McCarthy Center is packed again as the fall semester picks up, with students rushing in and out of the main doors to get to class.
Downstairs in the Dining Commons, commuters and residents alike are staying fed throughout the day, settling around Simple Servings, UCOOK, and in the Annex.
A few a day slip downstairs and past the Richard C. Logan Gymnasium, looking for somewhere to play a pickup game.
During these everyday habits, attentive students may notice a few colossal dolls labeled “Brazil,” “Peru,” and “Mexico.”
Framingham State University, through the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE), recently installed six 12-foot-tall dolls across campus, representing Hispanic countries such as Mexico and Puerto Rico’s culture in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
The dolls were installed in a variety of locales on campus - two in the Dining Commons Annex, two outside of the Athletic Center Gymnasium, one in the McCarthy Center Lobby, and one in Hemenway Labs.
Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 across the United States, allows for recognition of the unique cultures, histories, and people of Hispanic nations such as Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, according to a press release from the CIE.
Jerome Burke, director of the CIE, said the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month was spurred by the CIE’s research into more diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) events.
Burke said he did a lot of personal research on Hispanic Heritage Month prior to the University installing the six dolls.
He added one particular question of interest was the time-frame for the national month, and why it was stretched between September and October.
“I realized it was specifically done this way because a lot of the Hispanic countries actually celebrate their independence day during that time,” he said.
Burke said he also learned Hispanic Heritage Month is about nationally recognizing the contribution the Hispanic community has made toward the United States’ infrastructure, culture, and economy, among other things.
He added he thinks the celebration is important due to the population of Hispanic students attending FSU, too.
He said, “When you realize that 22% of the students identify as being Hispanic, it’s important that they are celebrated and recognized.”
“I wouldn’t have been at peace - I would’ve found it a real mess if we didn’t make sure that we would have marked it on our calendar and made deliberate efforts to celebrate these students,” he added.
Burke said in the past, the CIE had a more academic-focused approach to Hispanic Heritage Month, sharing related information and resources. He added since joining the CIE in June, he’s wanted to expound and build on past recognitions.
He said the dolls - which represent five Hispanic countries, plus Brazil - serve as a physical representation of Hispanic culture, and express to students the CIE wants to actively engage with diversity, equity, and inclusion - not just in a theoretical sense, he said.
Burke added the CIE has a lot planned for Hispanic Heritage Month alongside the dolls.
He said the CIE placed several Hispanic countries’ flags outside their office in O’Connor Hall, and they are also encouraging groups of students to visit the space and watch a powerpoint presentation with information about Hispanic Heritage Month.
Burke added they are planning a “taste of culture” day to experience dishes from various Hispanic cultures, pop-up dance classes, and a chance to explore the six dolls a little deeper in regards to their cultural identities and ties to events in modern America.
He said the dolls help students feel seen, and described how his interactions with them have led to more events in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“A student actually came to the CIE and she shared that she’s from Guatemala, and there’s a custom where there’s what they call ‘worry dolls,’ where there’s a really small doll that you’re able to share your work with … that way students are almost getting rid of their work,” he said.
“When the student shared that with me, … We were able to brainstorm some more, and we’re actually currently back-and-forth with the art department looking at an opportunity to create a space where we’re going to invite students to create their own worry dolls,” he added.
Burke said the large dolls were created by a company named “Guardians of Tradition” for Worcester’s 100-year anniversary, and were representative of the Hispanic community in the city.
He said after the anniversary, the dolls were moved around, visiting the Worcester airport, Worcester library, and other public spaces. Burke said he saw the dolls in person at the airport, and took down the company name to have them visit FSU.
Burke said overall, the dolls are supposed to be fun.
“If we’re honest, everyone would have played with a doll, right? Even if you are a macho guy, you remember at some point your sister or somebody in your family had a doll,” he said.
Burke said he encouraged students and staff to approach the dolls, take a photo with them, share it, and otherwise use them as a chance to have fun and learn about different cultures.
As director of the CIE, Burke said he focuses a lot on making sure the campus feels the impact of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at FSU.
He said it goes beyond the programming, though, and involves a lot of thought on where they can improve their message of inclusion.
He added, “It really means looking at what are the gaps. What are those areas that we can connect more? What are those areas that we need to provide more?
“I think we have a way to go when we’re talking about diversity in terms of getting better representation from all groups on campus,” he said.
Burke said the CIE’s goal is to make diversity, equity, and inclusion an institutionalized atmosphere on campus, where students are excited every time they come to campus and can resonate with the setting, either in the classroom or another building.
He reiterated Hispanic students are a part of FSU’s community, and as the CIE they have to be prepared to serve their community.
He added this support begins with words, but eventually grows into actions.
The dolls are an example of these actions, a physical celebration of FSU’s Hispanic community.
“As we were encouraging our students to do these things, we have to play our part in doing that too,” Burke said.
Caroline Kimball, a senior Spanish major and member of Hispanic National Honors Society Sigma Delta Pi, said she loves the dolls and what the CIE is doing to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Kimball, although not of Hispanic heritage, said she thinks the month is a great time to highlight the rich and unique culture of Hispanic countries, and sees it as a good opportunity to recommend students join Sigma Delta Pi.
Although a transfer student from last year, Kimball said she has always been a Spanish major, due to her love of learning languages and her exposure to Spanish in her sophomore year of high school.
“I did the exchange program to Spain and the culture there was so different than the United States, I thought it was so fascinating,” she said. “And that just made me want to learn more about Hispanic culture, like the countries from Central America, South America, the Caribbean.”
Kimball said she thinks it’s important to appreciate the individual cultures included in Hispanic Heritage Month, and most people can use the dolls as a physical way of learning more.
She said it’s more than just learning about culture, too, and is a chance to learn about their cuisine, history, and traditions.
Kimball said her favorite doll was Puerto Rico.
“I love learning about Puerto Rican culture and I've always wanted to go there. And the dress on that one is so pretty. That one just stood out for me,” she added.
Kimball said she thinks it’s important that even people who aren’t Hispanic, like herself, can learn about new cultures.
Emma Laurie, the program coordinator of the CIE, is also responsible for the office’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and the installation of the dolls.
Laurie joined the CIE as a part-time employee last September, and was recently brought on as full-time staff this past July. She said she remembers last year’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and this year offers more.
She said the message of Hispanic Heritage Month they incorporated into the month’s programming is recognizing the contributions of both Hispanic Americans and Hispanic people across the globe.
Laurie said she helped with the installation of the dolls and coordinating where they would be placed, using her experience as an alumni of FSU to choose areas where lots of students would get the chance to see them.
She said the CIE chose five of the dolls based on the countries’ population numbers and availability from the company.
Laurie said they also made a deliberate choice to request the Brazilian doll, despite not being a Hispanic country, due to the large Brazilian population in Framingham and at FSU.
She added Guardians of Tradition had a total of 18 dolls available for loan, which made choosing the six present on campus difficult.
Laurie said there were a few last-minute adjustments necessary to give all the dolls a space to stay.
“We ran into some issues size-wise. The dolls were much bigger than I think me and Jerome expected, so we had a few spots that we were planning on putting them - such as the residence halls - but we couldn’t get them in,” she said.
She added they originally planned to place a doll in Corinne Hall Towers, the Henry Whittemore Library, and in the admissions center, but had to relocate them due to the size of the doors, which blocked entry.
Laurie said last year’s Hispanic Heritage Month events consisted of a discussion on Hispanic vs. Latine vs. Latinx, and a few film screenings. She added this year’s events are very exciting, and she’s glad her full-time position allows her to share more ideas she has on programming for the CIE.
She said she wrote the placards accompanying the dolls, which explain which countries they represent and their design choices. “The one from Mexico has a bunch of flowers on it, and that one’s inspired by Frida Kahlo,” she added.
Laurie said she tried to make the placards look less formal than a museum to encourage students to approach the dolls and have the opportunity to interact with them.
Hispanic Heritage Month isn’t the only national month the CIE celebrates, Laurie said, adding that the CIE celebrates LGBTQ History Month in October, Native American History Month in November, Black History Month in February, and several more in the springtime.
Laurie said when she was attempting to install the Mexico doll in Corinne Hall Towers, she was standing outside with its body, waiting for someone to arrive with the head, when some students came to inspect the doll.
“This group of students came up to me and they’re like, ‘Is there food under there? What is it?’ And I was like, we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, these are meant to represent different Hispanic countries on campus,” she said.
She said the students were instantly interested, asking which doll she had, and questioning if they had ones representing Puerto Rico and Colombia.
“It was the most engaged I’ve ever seen students that weren’t at an event in regards to our DEI programming, and it was really heartwarming,” Laurie said.
“It was probably one of my most favorite moments since working here, just having students be engaged and be excited that their country is here on campus and is going to be represented,” she added.