Professor’s project celebrates campus diversity


Ceejay Willis

Olha Melokhina, a photography major born in southern Ukraine, was one of the students featured in photography Professor Patty Felkner’s project “Charting Identities: Homeland, Language and Culture at Cosumnes River College.” Melokhina’s portrait is on display in the cafeteria alongside the rest of the portraits of students and faculty involved in the project.

A simple glance around campus makes it clear why Cosumnes River College was ranked the ninth most diverse two-year public college in the nation in 2014, according to the The Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac.

It was this diversity that sparked an idea for the project of photography professor Patty Felkner called “Charting Identities: Homeland, Language and Culture at Cosumnes River College.”

While the photographs have hung in the cafeteria since the beginning of the semester, they were officially unveiled during the opening reception of the project on Feb. 19.

“It kind of started out with an idea,” Felkner said. “I wanted to represent as many different languages that we had represented on our campus.”

Felkner said it was also a way of showcasing the school’s diversity in a place where a majority of students would be able to see it and hopefully see a part of themselves within the pieces.

Felkner said that CRC students reported speaking more than 50 different languages when registering for classes, so in the fall of 2014 she photographed 23 students and staff who spoke 19 of those languages. Those languages included Hmong, Arabic, American Sign Language, Ukrainian, Russian and Hindi.

Valentin Almanza, a 31-year-old film production major, was one of the students featured in the project and said representation was a reason to get involved.

“Patty was my photo teacher a few years ago so I kept in touch with her,” Almanza said.  “When she told me about the project, I was really happy to be a part of it because I want to represent what I am and where I come from, which is Mexico.”

Alongside the individual portrait of each participant is another portrait which is full of pictures from their childhood, items specific to their culture, writing in the language they speak and many other diverse treasures.

“I knew I wanted to do portraits and I also wanted to do this other side thing that I call an object portrait,” Felkner said.

Felkner said that the goal of the project was to celebrate diversity because “there are a lot of differences in culture, religion, languages and everything else but there are also a lot of commonalities.”

CRC is indeed a very diverse community. According to the Cosumnes River College Mission Statement, the demographics of the 14,197 students enrolled in the fall of 2013 included 30 percent Asian American/Pacific Islander, 24.3 percent White/European American, 23.1 percent Hispanic/Latino, 14.1 percent African American/Black, 5.6 percent Multiracial/Multiethnic, 1.5 percent unknown, 0.9 percent other Non-White and 0.6 percent Native American.

Photography Professor Kathryn Mayo said that the cafeteria was a brilliant place for the portraits.

“So many students come in here and it’s wonderful that they can see themselves reflected in the images even if it’s not of them,” Mayo said.

Felkner said she was very grateful for the support she received from her subjects during the project.

“I learned so much about the world through their eyes,” Felkner said. “And if they hadn’t been willing to participate and be so vulnerable, I wouldn’t have been able to do this project.”