2021 Juneteenth

This year has exposed the painful realities of systemic racism in our nation and challenged us all to step up and be active participants in creating a more just society that moves towards collective liberation through antiracist work. This Saturday, June 19, we will honor and observe Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, an annual commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.

The Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment encourages each of you to honor this holiday by participating in Juneteenth events, engaging in educational resources, supporting local black-owned businesses, and taking the time to reconnect with the community at large.

A few local opportunities to commemorate Juneteenth are:

  • Vienna, VA: Juneteenth Celebration Event Calendar
  • Dumfries, VA: Inaugural Juneteenth Parade, Saturday, June 19, 2021, 7:00pm, Merchant Park, 3944 Cameron St, Dumfries, VA.
  • Fredericksburg, VA: Juneteenth Celebration at Pratt Park, Saturday, June 19, 2021, 12:00pm-8:00pm, Pratt Park,120 River Road, Fredericksburg, 22405
  • Fredericksburg, VA: Annual Stafford Region Juneteenth Celebration, Saturday, June 19, 4:00pm, 120 River Rd, Fredericksburg, VA
  • Click here, to learn more about Freedom Day by perusing and selecting a book from the Juneteenth reading list provided by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  • Click here, to test your Juneteenth knowledge by taking a quiz provided by International African American Museum.

Participating in Juneteenth commemoration events and taking time to educate ourselves is just a start! Recognizing Juneteenth is the beginning of many proactive ways that we can take to build a campus and community culture that actively addresses disparities, disrupt racist policies and procedures at a local level and nationally, address anti-blackness, and supports our community.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday while continuing the work of equity and inclusion.

Hamal Strayhorn
Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment


Statement on Derek Chauvin’s Outcome

Greetings Mason Family,   

Coalition Building and Diversity Education (CBDE) as well as the Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment (CCEE) acknowledge that some, particularly in the Black Community, may be experiencing a wave of emotions and thoughts after the guilty verdict rendered in the Derek Chauvin case and we want you to know that we stand in solidary with you.  

Yesterday’s verdict will never bring George Floyd back to his family and loved ones and it does not fully address the effects continuously inflicted by racial trauma the Black community and other communities of color experience. For years, our nation has watched injustice unfold time and time again as Black lives are taken violently by police without accountability. CBDE and CCEE recognizes, Chauvin’s guilty verdict is not justice, for justice implies restoration. However, we are hopeful that this measure of accountability will pave the way for authentic systemic reform in policing nationwide, which may be the first step towards justice. 

What do we do now that a verdict has been rendered?  

  1. We take a deep breath: Take care of our Wellbeing by connecting with loved ones and seeking therapy or guidance from spiritual and faith leaders.  
  1. TakeactionWe who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.” One verdict of accountability does alleviate systemic issues, so we must continue the work by joining organizations that fight for justice and police reform.  
  1. Support the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act: Let’s call 202.499.6085 and connect with our US Representatives and voice our support in passing this bill to reform policing nationwide. 
  1. Register to vote:  Use your voice in all elections and register to vote.  

This moment will continue to impact us months from now. Wchallenge our campus community to confront all forms of systematic injustice in your world and area of influenceIt is important above all things to acknowledge one another and takeaction when neededThere is no liberation without collective community care. 

Please know the staff in CBDE and CCEE are here for you and if you need to talk to us, or share ideas, don’t hesitate to email us at and 


Stop Asian Hate Support Spaces

Mason’s Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment (CCEE) is acknowledging the recent attacks against the Asian community in the Greater Atlanta area. We stand in solidarity with all APIDA members of the Mason family and strongly condemn these acts of violence. Today, many people in the Mason Community woke up to fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, and uncertainty as they grappled with this very intentional act of violence. As of this morning, we have learned the names of just some of the victims and those injured:

Ms. Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michels and Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz.

Tuesday’s killing is just one day of a spike in attacks against the Asian community in recent years. Again, we strongly condemn these attacks and are actively seeking means to safety and justice. We will be holding support spaces today and tomorrow for all of our APIDA students. Below you’ll find the sessions, zoom links, and additional resources:

Support Spaces

Students and community members can drop in during these windows of time to reflect and process with a staff member

Thursday, March 18th

  • Mengqi Li: Drop-in style: 1:1 time slots
    • 1 – 1:30pm, 1:30 – 2pm, 2 – 2:30pm, and 2:30 – 3pm
    •  Zoom Link 
  • Crystal Davidson: Drop-in style: Group Reflection

Friday, March 19th

  • Brandi Blake & Mengqi Li: Drop-in Style: Group Reflection (Guided Dialogue)


Student Resources


George Mason University Receives First-gen Forward Designation

Lex Lewis-Semien (she/her)
Assistant Director, Student Access and Equity
Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment

Deana Waintraub Staffor
Associate Director,
Center for First-generation Student Success

George Mason University Receives First-gen Forward Designation;
National Honor for Commitment to First-generation Student Success

FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA (March 1st, 2021) The Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation, recently announced the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort. The First-gen Forward designation recognizes institutions of higher education who have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students. Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences, and a first look at the Center’s research and resources.

At George Mason University, first-generation students are defined as students whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have a highest level of education from a community college; did not complete a bachelor’s degree; or completed a degree outside of the United States. As of Fall 2020, Mason reported that 20% of all first-time freshmen and 26% of all undergraduate degree-seeking students were first-generation college students. 78% of first-gen students enrolled in Fall 2020 were attending full-time. First-generation college students face various barriers when trying to excel both academically and socially. Mason works to eliminate these additional barriers and foster first-generation student success through intentional programming and catered support. This support includes:

  • Early Identification Program: George Mason University’s college preparatory program for first-generation students in collaboration with local schools.
  • Student Transition Empowerment Program: Mason’s Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment’s (CCEE) initiative created to enhance the recruitment, engagement, and retention of first-generation college students accepted to George Mason University.
  • First-Generation Peer Mentoring Program: CCEE’s mentoring program to support first-generation student success.
  • First-Generation Student Task Force: Task force led by Mason Faculty/Staff who were first-generation students themselves.

“The Center is so pleased to welcome George Mason University into the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort. Through the application process, it was evident that Mason is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, assistant vice president, Center for First-generation Student Success.

Dr. Creston Lynch, assistant vice president for University Life at Mason said, “We, at Mason, are excited to be in this First-gen Forward cohort because it not only further positions our faculty and staff to continue their amazing and comprehensive work in support of first-generation students, but it also aligns directly with the Mason University Life vision that “every student succeeds” during and after their time here.”

As a First-gen Forward Institution, interested faculty and staff will be afforded multiple opportunities to engage with peer institutions who are also creating environments that improve the experiences and outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions will send representatives to the First-gen Forward Workshop slated for early-June and will participate in monthly phone calls, virtual professional development, goal setting, blog development, annual reporting, and more. After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the Advisory leadership designation.

“First-gen Forward is an exciting opportunity for George Mason University to join a dedicated community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge, and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country. We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from the First-gen Forward cohort and know Mason will be a significant contributor,” offered Dr. Kevin Kruger, president and CEO of NASPA.

To learn more about the Center for First-generation Student Success, visit

NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Its work provides high-quality professional development, advocacy, and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries, and 8 U.S. territories. Visit for more information.

The Center for First-generation Student Success is the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development, and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students. Through four strategic priority areas, the Center drives higher education innovation and advocacy for first-generation student success.

Click HERE to download a copy of the press release.


Stand Against anti-Asian Racism and Violence

Mason’s Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment (CCEE) CCEE is acknowledging the recent attacks against Asian elders and those in the Asian community. We stand in solidarity with all APIDA members of the Mason family. On January 28, in San Francisco, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee was knocked to the ground and killed while walking in his neighborhood. There have been over 20 attacks in Oakland’s Chinatown in the past two weeks that the local Chamber of Commerce considered to be targeted against Asians. On January 31, an assailant violently knocked a 91 year old man to the ground and later attacked an older man and woman. On February 3, in New York City, Noel Quintana, 61, was slashed across the face, and on the same day in Oakland, a 71 year-old grandmother was knocked to the ground while crossing the street and robbed. (HRW) There has been a significant uptick in violence against Asian Americans since Covid-19 entered the United States in late 2019; invoking harmful rhetoric from former Presidential leadership surrounding the virus’ origin. We stand in solidarity with our Asian American students in the Mason community and strongly condemn these acts of violence. We pray that justice is served for the victims and their families.

What we can do:

  • Continue to learn & amplify issues about all forms of violence against Asians and Asian American communities.
  • Check-in with elders in your community; ask them what they need.
  • Hold each other accountable.
  • Work to end white supremacy, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, poverty, police violence and the violence within and against our communities.
  • Support, volunteer with, and learn from community-based groups who are organizing on the ground around the needs of elders & community safety.
  • Continue to build cross-racial solidarity.

Social media is uncovering several overarching societal themes attached to the violent incidents, including an influx of anti-black rhetoric and the nuance and complexities within the model minority myth. To learn more visit

If you would like to process thoughts about these incidents, please email Brandi Blake at . If there is interest, we will host a processing space. 


The 2020 Election

As we prepare for this upcoming election, the Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment acknowledges the high emotion and critical stakes for our interconnected communities. As a staff team, we have sat with our own uneasiness, nervousness, and exhaustion as we engage in conversations and collective action that center our lives and futures. Voting is a powerful tool for civic engagement and change. If you have the privilege to vote, we ask that you go to the polls. There are people and communities that do not have such privileges, and it is on US to move in solidarity with these communities by utilizing our privilege.  

Remember, there are three ways you can vote this year! 

  • Vote by Mail or Drop Box 
  • In-Person During Early Voting 
  • In-Person on Election Day 

For more information on ways to vote on or around campus visit Voting out-ofstate? Check out for your state’s voting details. 

Take time to review candidates and ballot issues: 

Understanding the issues on your ballot may be confusing or overwhelming. Plan to spend at least 30 minutes looking up candidates online, reviewing ballot issues or locating a sample ballot for your political party. Remember, elections are about more than just the President, but also connect with issues in our local and state communities! 

Our full-time staff team is available to meet with students one-on-one for processing and support. Staff availability is as follows:  

Amber Holton-Thomas (she/her/ella)

  • November 4th-7th (Anytime for 15 minute blocks. If you need more time, choose 2 blocks that are back to back)
  • Schedule a meeting here.

Lex Lewis-Semien (she/her) 

  • November 4th (12 – 6pm ) 
  • Schedule a meeting here.  

Brandi Blake (She/her)

  • November 4th (open 12 – 5pm for 20 min blocks)
  • Schedule a meeting here. 

Crystal Davidson (She/her)

  • November 4th and 5th (open 48pm for after-hour availability – 30 min blocks) 
  • Schedule a meeting here.

Josh Kinchen (he/him) 

  • November 4th-24th 2020 (open select times for 30 min blocks) 
  • Schedule a meeting here.

LuLu Gezá Kelemen  (they/them) 

  • November 4th & November 5th 1-6pm (20 minute blocks each)
  • Schedule a meeting here.

Dr. Van Bailey (he/they)

  • November 4th (open 10:30am-12:00pm – 30 min blocks)  
  • Schedule a meeting here.

David Corwin, Women and Gender Studies, (they/them)

  • November 4th from 3-4pm, November 5th from 1-4pm (All appointments can be in person or via Zoom; 30 minute blocks
  • Schedule a meeting by emailing  

Student Group Meetings

As a community, we will offer post-election holding spaces for dialogue and gathering for students. The following spaces and times available are:  

FirstGen Students

  • November 6th | 2-4pm via Zoom and 5-7pm via Zoom

LGBTQ+ Students

  • November 5th | 3–4pm via Zoom
  • November 9th | 5–6pm via Zoom
  • November 16th | 7–8pm via Zoom

Coalition groups and student organizations affiliated with our department (QSLC, BLACC, APAC, HLLA, UndocuMason, NAIA, STEP and SWANA affiliated student organizations), will be directly contacted by our team with upcoming meeting dates and times.



Introducing CCEE

We are incredibly excited to announce that the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Multicultural Education & LGBTQ+ Resources is now the Center for Culture, Equity, and Empowerment! This change in direction helps us better reflect the populations we serve and missions we hold as a department.

Why the name change?

The diversity portfolio was growing in University Life and we knew an organizational re-shaping was necessary. We wanted to be clear in centering the student experience. Our department centers the student experience through cultural-celebrations, ally-ship and identity development, and culturally-specific leadership development. While, confronting bias and diversity education are important aspects of equity work, we were learning student needs were greater than our current capacity and organizational structure.

As we continue to move the needle towards inclusive excellence, we are working hard towards creating equitable access to resources for all students. Celebrating students’ cultural heritages is also a vital aspect of our work, and we felt strongly it should have representation in our name. Engaging in cultural equity enables us to make space for people to see the multitude of cultural heritages across campus. Working alongside and in community with students, our goal is to continue to improve their quality of life and experiences. A major aspect of social empowerment is working within communities, doing one’s own self-work in understanding identity and privilege, and then utilizing aspects of privilege to create change. Self-efficacy and the ability to realize ones’ own cultural wealth is directly tied to student success and empowerment.

What else has changed?

Along with our name, we updated our office’s structure to include 3 service areas:

  • Student Access and Equity (SAE): Supports campus and student engagement for students who are historically underrepresented in higher education and their allies while specifically centering college students who identify as first generation and students, students who are undocumented, and students who are protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or hold Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
  • Student Engagement for Racial Justice (SERJ): Supports and serves communities of color who have been historically marginalized in higher education. SERJ is charged with raising awareness and visibility of racial and ethnic identity through educational programs, cultural celebration and ceremonies, and promoting equitable practices in the university setting.
  • LGBTQ+ Resources: Support to LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff; including advising, advocacy, referral, education and training, group and workshop facilitation, and leadership development.

These areas serve as resources to those in the Mason Community who seek to meaningfully engage and interact with people of different identities and intersections to co-create an equitable campus environment.

What’s next?

Stating October 5th, you’ll start to see changes to our identity system, website, and social media profiles.