Students Brand the Office of Multicultural Affairs as Absent and Ineffective
By Ogden Wright
In the past couple weeks, campus has been abuzz about the pervasive nature of institutional racism and the need to enact systemic changes to promote multiculturalism by creating healthy and productive discourse among all students.
One can look to the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) as an avenue to promote these ideals. According to OMA’s website, “Our primary objective is to develop collaborative partnerships with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the greater Kalamazoo community to embrace diversity as the very fabric of our institution.”
However, others believe that the office may not be living up to this stated mission. In a survey that was issued to the campus last Thursday, Student Commission asked whether there was a need to expand the office, with the implication that it could be more effective in promoting multiculturalism and diversity.
Dorraine Duncan ’14, President of Caribbean Society, harbors such sentiments. She expressed disappointment in the Office, on their lack of proactivity in advancing multiculturalism beyond its current state.
“I’ve been the President of Caribbean Society for two years, for my sophomore and senior year, and she has never reached out to me, not sure if I was to reach out to her, but there was never a time that we were introduced to the Office of Multicultural Affairs, so I think that made it the issue,” said Duncan.
Justina Kilumelume ‘14, the President of Kalama-Africa, stated she had not even heard of OMA before our interview. She spoke about her heavy involvement in the organization in previous years and could not recall any outreach on the part of OMA.
“There is a need for that Office. I think it’s very important because K College is now becoming more diversified as the years go by, and I think such an Office would be helpful if they were doing something. I don’t know if they’re doing things with other minority groups on campus, but as for Kalama-Africa, I know for sure we haven’t done anything with them,” Kilumelume said.
Dean Karen Joshua-Wathel, the figure in charge of OMA, struck back at these claims. When solicited for her take, she stated, “When there are discussions on campus, certain groups have these discussions and they never come to my office. It’s strange how individuals always talk about this Office and have never set foot in this office, have never had a conversation with me, and never participate in the things that I do,” stated Joshua-Wathel.
She went on to highlight, “It has never been a closed door, however, if individuals are expecting me to rush out and shake everyone’s hand, that’s just not what I do. I always reach out to organizations, send information out to say what is going on, and if you’d like to participate, let me know, nothing.”
She sought to clarify her role as one beyond outreach, as she mentions, “I think our campus does multicultural affairs differently from anyone of our colleagues at other institutions because I believe it’s the College’s responsibility and to handle multicultural affairs.”
Her belief is that the Office alone cannot be tasked with the responsibility of promoting multicultural affairs and she highlighted that part of her work has been to ensure that the entire College is equipped with handling and promoting multiculturalism.
Justin Danzy ’16, the Treasurer of the Black Student Organization, sung high praises for the Office. He spoke to how critical the Office was in facilitating opportunities for persons to be more informed on the need for multiculturalism, especially on an increasingly diverse campus.
When asked about the mood on OMA being ineffective, he stated, “Just because you’re uninformed about what the Office is doing doesn’t mean that the Office isn’t doing anything. Just because when they do put on something, you look away or skip over any article or anything you see about the office doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing anything.”
Danzy acknowledged, however, that there was room for improvement in reaching out to students to facilitate greater awareness about the office and the work that it does.
Duncan and Kilumelume themselves recognized that Dean Joshua has made efforts to facilitate events geared towards promoting multiculturalism, but emphasised that more could be done on OMA’s part to foster greater change on campus.
With all of that said, it is obvious that there is a gap that cannot be ignored. One of the reasons StuOrgs such as these are critical is that they operate from and understand students’ point of view, a luxury that OMA does not necessarily have. If we are serious as members of this institution in advancing multiculturalism beyond its current state, then we ought to kick start vital relationships between students who are aware of the realities, and the persons with resources necessary to implement that change, as provided by OMA.