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Students express themselves, their cultures during the Multicultural Fashion Show

| Monday, October 9, 2023

“Are you ready guys? Listen to me,” sophomore Saif Elmaleh said to gather everyone’s attention backstage of the Washington Hall auditorium, ten minutes before the Multicultural Fashion Show.

As the finale of Cultural Relations Week, the fashion show is the biggest event of the year for the Department of Diversity and Inclusion: Race and Ethnicity. Over 30 students listened to Elmaleh, preparing to step foot onstage. 

“We’re going to have a lot of people now coming through those doors to see you guys,” Elmaleh said. “We want to have spotlights on you because this is your opportunity to express yourself. This is the fashion show. It’s your fashion. It’s your time to shine at Notre Dame.”

As the deputy director of the department, it’s Elmaleh’s job to ensure the smoothness of every act that performed on stage, which included dance and instrumental performances in addition to every performer wearing clothes representing their cultural and ethnic heritage.

The fashion show acts as more than just a showcase. It’s become a safe space for all students to feel they can be themselves and celebrate their own culture, Elmaleh explained.

“In Notre Dame, it’s easy to lose sight of your identity, especially if you are from underrepresented backgrounds … so it’s not that we’re trying to attack this problem head-on, but it’s just definitely helping by allowing an area for everyone to feel who they are, while at the same time feeling included in the community,” Elmaleh said.

Aynslee Dellacca | The Observer
Students who participated in the Multicultural Fashion show on Oct. 6 stand on stage in the auditorium of Washington Hall for a final bow and round of applause.

The department invited several clubs on campus to showcase their identity and sense of self onstage. Clubs such as Dance Africa, the South Asian Student Association, the Caribbean Student Association, the Chinese Student Association, the Africana Studies Club, RitmoND, the Japan Club and K-pop group ASCEND all participated in the Multicultural Fashion Show.

“Seeing all these identities coming together, being able to show off their clothes, show off their music, show off their appreciation for their identity. It’s so beautiful, and it reminds me that we’re all people trying to be proud of ourselves,” freshman Humyra Ferdus said. 

Ferdus, along with freshman Arham Surana, performed in and found the fashion show to be an empowering and important way to express their East Asian identities.

“Learning new things and meeting different people, it’s really important,” Surana said. ”That’s the power of community, of university. You get global exposure rather than just sitting at home,” Surana said.

Aynslee Dellacca | The Observer
Students a part of the South Asian Student Association, including freshmen Humyra Ferdus and Arham Surana, perform a choreographed dance piece dressed in their own traditional cultural attire.

Senior Luzolo Matundu, the director of the Department of Diversity and Inclusion: Race and Ethnicity, changed the name of the week from Race Relations Week to Cultural Relations Week this year. She said she made the change so the week would feel more inclusive and allow all students to feel seen and celebrated.

“I want people to be able to see cultural fashion, hear cultural music,” Matundu said. “I think it’s very important because if we want to make the school more diverse, we have to make sure we showcase those things. And if we want to make it more inclusive, we have to showcase them and embrace them for who they are and celebrate them.”

Throughout Cultural Relations Week, Matundu and the rest of the board of the department hosted an interfaith service, a discussion panel, a guest speaker and MINDful (Micro-aggression Intervention at Notre Dame) training all leading up to the fashion show. The mission and goal of the week was to bring people from all walks of life together in open-mindedness, understanding and inclusion. 

“Even though we are different, and do come from different places, we all have something unique and powerful in our culture, and it’s very important to showcase that diversity in order to be more inclusive,” Matundu said. 

Aside from Cultural Relations Week, the department plans to host more events and participation weeks for students to get involved in celebrating diversity, culture and ethnicity.

“We always stress diversity and inclusion. Diversity, having people from different backgrounds. Inclusion, having them for their uniqueness and being a part of the community,” Elmaleh said. 

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