Posted January 26, 2012 by Joel Pettigrew 

Embracing the Multicultural Experience in the College Union

ACUI’s core competencies guide our Association and us, as professionals, to provide the best opportunities, services, and learning experiences for students on our campuses and within our college unions. One of the 11 core competencies is intercultural proficiency, which we define as the “ability to successfully communicate, understand, and interact among persons with differing assumptions that exist because of ethnic and cultural orientations.” Reflecting on my experiences at The Ohio State University and Texas A&M University as well as my work here at the College of Wooster, I think that it is key that our college unions continue to embrace the multicultural experience, whether or not they house a multicultural center.

There are a number of ways to achieve this in conjunction with colleagues in our institutions’ multicultural centers. If we are going into a mode of reconstruction or renovation, consideration should be given to prime placement of the multicultural center in the new college union. 

Jennifer Ford, director of the Department of Multicultural Services at Texas A&M University, said that having a multicultural center in a prominent location makes it easier to find for underrepresented students, and they may be more comfortable and willing to use the services of both the multicultural center and college union if they do not have to search down long hallways or in obscure corners of the building. Because unions are the campus living room and where students come to get involved and hang out, this placement sends a positive message that every student is represented and can be comfortable in the building and on campus; it also relays that institutions take awareness and inclusiveness seriously. 

At Texas A&M University, for example, the Department of Multicultural Services is located directly next to the Student Programs Office, which Ford said addresses another core competency—communication. Staff members are much more likely to interact, share plans and ideas, and find opportunities for collaboration with this proximity.

The Ohio State University’s placement of a large meeting room, open to anyone, within the multicultural center was a great move for all parties and a good example of drawing multicultural centers to a place of importance. This draws audiences and students into the center that may not be part of the its typical demographic or audience, exposing students, staff, and faculty to the work that multicultural centers do and the opportunities that exist with their programming and personnel.

Unions not renovating should look to embrace the multicultural experience with the resources already in place. Utilizing display cases or art walls to celebrate the various cultures and identities present on our campus is a great way to create a comfortable environment for all students. Ford stressed finding a balance between recognizing history and celebrating and providing representation for the current student body and the diverse experiences and cultures they bring to the institution. Additionally, Ford suggested student activities and programming boards use their programming experience while actively seeking collaborations with cultural and identity-based organizations to provide representative programming as well as to identify issues on campus that are critical to these communities.

Overall, we can address, innovate, and excel in utilizing our core competency of intercultural proficiency, and we can strive for this both in the short and long term as we move our organizations forward.

What efforts do your union or office make to advance intercultural proficiency?

Joel Pettigrew

Joel Pettigrew is the Conference Manager at Emerson College.

Joel studied history at Texas A&M University and student affairs at Ohio State University. He has a keen interest in the relationship of urban design and urban campuses and how that influences the campus community experience. When he is not sending all-caps tweets (@therealjoelp), he is probably at his favorite place, Bukowski Tavern, reading a book.

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