Multicultural Advocates encourage diversity

By Sharon Steed

“Building common ground: Helping people experience the desire for change and the beauty of cultural differences” describes what they want best. They are Multicultural Advocates, or MAs.

According to the University Housing Web site, MAs plan programs and learning events that deal with diversity, multiculturalism and social justice issues. They serve as leaders and role models within the residence hall community for confronting acts of intolerance or hate, encouraging dialogue among students and working toward true multicultural communities.

The duties of the MAs seem endless. They range from creating programs and leading discussions to helping living and learning communities relate their activities to multiculturalism to acting as advisors to RSOs like the Asian-Pacific American Coalition (APAC). All of these duties result in one thing – breaking down the invisible barriers that exist between students who don’t understand each other.

Lauren Johnson, junior in LAS, describes her role as an MA as one who stands by the side of those who are underrepresented or do not have a voice in the residence halls. As students on this campus, she added, MAs can better understand the issues that students face.

“We see what’s going on and we see how we can change things and be most effective,” she said.

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Jewell Hillery, junior in communications and an MA, said MAs are advocates for social identity-based groups, including people of different religions, sexual orientations and political affiliations.

“On this campus, I see us as breaking down the borders between groups,” said Annica Schroeder, senior in communications.

“We create programs as well as facilitate discussions that cut down those boundaries, specifically within housing,” Schroeder said.

One of the largest parts of the MAs’ jobs is putting on programs that promote diversity and interaction beyond that of people’s own race, sexual orientation or religious preference. One program, Mix-it-Up, will help students interact with other students that they would not usually socialize with. It is important that this program is put on early in the year, Johnson said, so people don’t form cliques.

“Whether it be ‘I’m going to sit by you because you look like me,’ or whatever the case is, we’re trying to mix people up,” she said. “It’s going to be like a resource for people on campus within the residence halls.”

Another program they are planning is a celebration of Rosh Hashana. The dining halls will have apples and honey, a traditional Jewish snack, Hillery said. There will also be a description of the snack’s significance in the Jewish community.

“We do everything from very active programs like Mix-it-Up to passive things like bulletin boards,” Schroeder said.

The bulletin boards will be posted throughout the residence halls and will touch on issues like white privilege, LGBT issues and Rosh Hashana.

Beyond programming and bulletin boards, MAs work with the living and learning communities in helping plan events that relate to multiculturalism, Jonathan Chu, junior in business, said. They also deal with resident conflict resolution, added senior in applied life studies Nashira Sey .

This University is not the only one with multicultural advocates. Other campuses, including the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Syracuse University, use MAs to promote diversity and make residence halls safe and welcoming for all students.

Vanessa Nicosia, senior in ACES, believes the MAs’ position in the residence halls is important because they represent allies in the community. They create open and accepting attitudes – not just tolerance – of different cultures, races, genders, sexual orientations and everything that has to deal with social identities, she said.

“Having us in the residence halls as a visible ally will help people think about their own personal views and how they came upon their personal views and if they’re misconstrued by negative stereotypes,” she said.

Alana Groves, junior in applied life studies, agrees.

Groves, a resident of Busey Hall, said having the MAs around will help people open their eyes and hopefully see others for who they are and not what they are.

“We should see each other as all students and not Asian, black or white,” Groves said. She went on to say that people from different backgrounds do not talk unless someone encourages it, and the programs that the MAs put on will hopefully bring more people together.

Yu Song, sophomore in LAS, said being an MA is more than planning programs and promoting diversity. It is a way of getting people to understand and accept differences not only in the residence halls but also throughout their lives, he said.

“Culture is really a way of living, a way of thinking,” Song said. “Multiculturalism is to get people thinking a different way and living a different way, or at least expose them, and really to not necessarily have them accept different ways of thinking or living, but certainly have them appreciate and understand (other cultures better).”