Following multiple instances where students have expressed the desire for an Office of Minority and Diversity Affairs, Brad Williams, vice president of student affairs and dean of the College of Undergraduate students, plans to submit a proposal to President Hanbury, per his request, for an Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Although under a different name, Williams said this office would serve the same purpose as the one outlined to him by students. Some of these purposes include “educating the university on social issues and providing resources” and “support that would create a culture of inclusion” as outlined by a mission statement drafted by students for the office. Both purposes align with the value of diversity, one of NSU’s core values, which it defines as including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, culture, religion, philosophy, gender, physical, socioeconomic status, age and sexual orientation.
The idea was first created as part of a Razor’s Edge Leadership Legacy project, a tradition in the program where students work in teams on a project designed to create an impact on the university. Two of these students are Mariah Knowles, senior finance major, and Moira Majaha, junior biology major.
Majaha said that for her, an office of this nature would help celebrate diversity through annual events and programming.
“Coming in as an international student you kind of have this idea in your mind of how you’ll be able to celebrate your cultures and that was kind of my disappointment. There was no big event or events that celebrated diversity,” said Majaha. “The part of the project that I’m really passionate about is making sure the office can help create that sort of culture that emphasizes that celebration [of diversity] through different events.”
Williams agreed that programming like this is important.
“If I could get an office I would be thrilled … One that could talk about sexual orientation, multicultural faith and spirituality and divergent points of thoughts,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have anything like that. We might have some student organizations but they’re student organizations and then where do they turn to?”
Stella Duran, senior finance major and former Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) senator, created legislation for USGA to present to Williams illustrating a need for the office. She said that there was definitely a discrepancy between the experience she has at NSU and the one she had at her previous university.
“I noticed [when I came to NSU] that in comparison to my previous school [Valencia College], a lot of historical heritage holidays weren’t being pushed forward or there weren’t many events for them,” said Duran.
But students hope the office will be involved in more than just events, and will give support to the issues students may face when coming from diverse backgrounds. Majaha and Knowles said that their vision for the office would include staff who are trained to specifically deal with issues that minority students face. Duran said that this would help students who may not otherwise have this support.
“I feel like especially with our political climate, it would help certain people have the support that they need,” said Duran. “An office would be more of a central place where students and faculty can go to understand these issues.”
Leon Peter, junior biology major and president of Maasti, said that there’s a need to connect.
“We have a large minority campus and a lot of people feel like they aren’t exactly represented. I wouldn’t say that people aren’t inclusive, but it’s just like the school isn’t attending as well to the needs of these students,” he said. “I think part of it comes from students just not knowing where to go with their issues. If there was something like the Minority and Diversity Affairs Office, it would be for a versatile amount of things.”
“I favor creating a culture of diversity versus just one department so that I can’t say one department is responsible for diversity. I think we are all responsible for diversity and need to respect that.”
President George Hanbury
Michelle Manley, director of student media, is working with Williams to create the proposal for the new office. She is currently researching similar types of offices that exist at similar private universities as well as best practices. Williams plans to propose the budget to President Hanbury before the summer break begins.
“I would be thrilled if we launched an office next fall,” said Williams. “I’ve been here long enough to know that sometimes things take longer than that. But I wanted to get it to the president before the summer just in case we found a space [and the budget].”
Outside of determining what an office would look like in practice, Williams said that the university would also have to consider where this office would since the university is facing a growing population and stagnant amount of space.
Hanbury has commented on the idea of this office before. In a town hall meeting on Jan. 31, Hanbury said that though he was open to the idea of such an office, he didn’t think an office under the name of “Minority and Diversity Affairs” would be well-suited for the university.
“NSU is a minority-majority university. Diversity is a core value,” said Hanbury. “I favor creating a culture of diversity versus just one department so that I can’t say one department is responsible for diversity. I think we are all responsible for diversity and need to respect that.”
However, Hanbury said in the town hall meeting that he was open to the idea of an Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Williams said that no matter the name, he wants the office to be an umbrella that covers many students and student issues. What’s most important to him is that the office serves the proper function.
“For me,” he said, “It’s not so much about the name as it is about meeting the needs of the students. If we meet the needs of the students, that is the most important thing.”
Students, however, said that there was a difference and importance in the different names. Particularly, there’s a concern that the word “multicultural” wouldn’t be as encompassing as the word “diversity.”
“It’s not just the wording. It’s the whole aiming. If the name is not right, it feels like the aim is not right,” said Peter.
Knowles said that she and her classmates were intentional in the name for the office they outlined and the word “multicultural” may not be a good replacement.
“People are going to make an assumption about it based on the title. I know when I hear the word ‘multicultural’ I think of ethnic diversity immediately. That’s not to say the office couldn’t serve more than that [under that name] it’s just not going to be immediately associated with it,” she said.
Given that the discussions and plans for the office are still in the developmental stage, it’s not certain if, when and under what name an office will form. Although students do feel like the name is important, they agreed that ultimately they would be more concern that it gets created to fulfill student needs.
As Duran put it, “If we do have an office under that name [Multicultural Affairs] and it does provide that support then … a name is a name as long as it gets the job done. I would rather have an office with a name like that than not have an office at all.”
Williams said he plans to update USGA after the president makes a decision about the proposal.