Creating a World of Inclusion and Respect
By Lori Putnam
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Center for Multicultural Engagement (CME), one of four centers that support the University’s mission of a student-centered learning experience. The CME, in particular, reflects a commitment to building a learning community where diversity is valued and respected, and civic engagement is encouraged.
The vision of collaboration begins with the CME’s own unique leadership structure which includes co-directors from faculty and Student Affairs. “Our partnership fosters collaboration across divisions to infuse multiculturalism throughout student experiences—in and out of the classroom,” said Kirsten Moss-Frye, CME Student Affairs Director.
Together, Moss-Frye and Julia Balén, Associate Professor of English and Faculty Director, share information, coordinate initiatives, and leverage resources. “It’s the synergy of thinking together that makes a difference,” observed Balén. “I see the relationship as akin to the work we do with diversity,” added Moss-Frye. “It is a form of cross-cultural communication.”
One outcome of the successful partnership has been the Women’s Recognition Lunch which honors women who foster the growth and development of the CI community through their leadership and service. The event, now in its 10th year, is sponsored by the Multicultural and Women’s & Gender Student Center. Other recent initiatives include Balén’s work with anti-bullying and aligning her efforts with Student Affairs’ CI Civility Campaign. “It started great discussions on how to engage others,” said Balén of our students’ classroom presentations on bullying to local religious and education leaders. “So one project in a class, which in other places might have stayed in the class, can now be shared with a larger group.”
The CME also encourages faculty to incorporate multiculturism in their instruction through awards and stipends. For the last three years, the CME has focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) faculty to help address cultural differences that may stop some students from seeing themselves as scientists or mathematicians. “As a kid from a working-class background, I never saw myself as a professor,” remarked Balén. “Other people saw me in that role and believed in me. Part of our STEM initiative is to help our students see who they could become.”
As with other University centers, the CME has been impacted by the state’s budget crisis. “Without funding, none of this happens,” said Balén. So the directors continue to collaborate on what Balén describes as a labor of love, and through their partnership they hope to amplify their impact in the CI community and beyond.