Inspiring interaction, encouraging education

By Laura Smith/ The Pendulum

On Monday, Elon University released its expansion plan for the implementation of new programs within the Multicultural Center.

Elon’s Multicultural Center creates educational programs based on diversity and culture, including programs for black students, Latino students, Asian-American students and more. Originally, it began in 1992 as a center for African-American students.

The focus of the new plan is on retention, multicultural education and academic success, according to Leon Williams, director of the program.

Williams came to Elon in October 2008 and has been working on the plan ever since.
“The question on the table as I entered into Elon was: How do we broaden multicultural services?” he said. “What do you do when you’re good and you’re nationally-recognized? My idea of it is we have to go wider and dig deeper.”

Plans for the expansion began in 2008 with a charge from several African-American students to clarify the center’s mission and devlelop more programs, according to Jeff Stein, associate Dean of Students.

A committee for the search for the new director, co-chaired by Associate Chaplain and Director of Religious Life Phil Smith and English professor Prudence Layne, was then developed to implement the plan.

Stein was a committee member and helped chair the search for Williams.

“This is about the future of the university in terms of preparing students for global citizenship,” Stein said. “This is about the growth the university will experience in turn.”

Williams said he hopes to incorporate more students of a multicultural background within the programs, as well as recognize the role of white students within the center.

“Every student should come in contact with one another, learn from one another, share their experiences with one another,” Williams said.

To do this, Williams and his colleagues have implemented several programs for the next three to five years.

One of these is the Difficult Dialogues series in which students, faculty and staff, along with those from historically black colleges and predominately white schools, will meet to discuss multicultural issues that plague society today.

The first Difficult Dialogue will take place Oct. 8. It is called “Comparing Experiences” and will incorporate 18 to 20 schools within an hour of Elon, according to Kelsey Glover, president of Elon’s multicultural student organization, Diversity Emerging Education Program.

Another program will be a multicultural conference.

“We want Elon … to make that claim that we are the number one resource in the south for multicultural education,” Williams said. “Students from all over the region can come here and learn in depth about multicultural education.”

Within the university, Williams said he is hoping to strengthen diversity training in orientation so new students will feel comfortable knowing about different backgrounds as well as where their resources are located. This is being encouraged through an interactive media tool called Deep Impact, which is a DVD created by the communications department and is comprised of student performers, which will be shown in Elon 101 classes. It includes six vignettes that cover class, race, disabilities, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

Externally, Williams is hoping to expand community service projects such as the Martin Luther King program, where students clean up a local church, and to partner with Centro La Comunidad to support Latino students in local high schools.

He said he also hopes to one day have an exhibit at Elon displaying artifacts and slave narratives, as well as bring in more multicultural performing arts shows, such as the Alvin Ailey dance company.

In addition, the plan will cater to the LGBT community, creating training for safe zones to help facilitate the discussion when a student is struggling to come out. Williams has also written a grant to host an LGBT advocacy conference soon.

Glover couldn’t be more excited about the implementations.

“This year we really want people to face the issues they don’t want to talk about … not in an adversarial way but in the world we live in,” she said. “You have to be comfortable in talking about these issues.”

In addition to these new programs, DEEP will continue to hold DEEP Days, which will include diversity-aimed education programs. It will also continue its annual events, such as Thanksgiving with a Twist, where students celebrate Thanksgiving from a different perspective, and the Tunnel of Oppression. The organization is also beginning a branding logo for students to recognize this year.

“We want to reach outside the bubble and really inform and educate people in the community that might not have had any outside experiences,” Glover said. “I feel like Elon is really behind this drive, wanting to make this a more diverse campus. Elon has diversity, you just have to look for it.”

Williams is looking forward to what the plan will bring to Elon as well.

“I think this will put us in a different place in the market for recruiting and attracting students,” he said. “I think they’ll be very attracted to Elon as being not only a place with physical ethnicity (and) race diversity, but a multicultural experience as well.”

He also said he believes these programs will help students in the future.

“Students will be prepared and equipped with the knowledge to go out in the market and compete very well with an advanced cultural competence level of understanding,” Williams said. “We shift from becoming members of the discussion to leading the discussion, and that’s a great opportunity for Elon students.”


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