Multicultural Center Functions as Hub of Campus Diversity

In the third floor of the Raymond W. Kelly ’63 Student Commons, glass walls encompass two sides of the relatively new Multicultural Center. Hanging on the wall is a colorful mural 30 students created during Manhattan College’s first Diversity Development Day last Spring. Painted on the mural are words of encouragement and phrases such as “Lets Mix,” flags from various countries, a palm tree, a rainbow and the hand prints of students that helped to create it. The mural is a symbol of the foundation that has helped to create and foster this new student center.

Sitting on a table just below the mural is Debra Damico, French professor and Director of International Students and Scholar Services, whose office is one of the three that reside in the center. Next to her sits senior, Cyti Williams, a Panamanian and Jamaican student commuter who majors in Sociology and is one of Damico’s students.

The two meet Tuesday mornings due to a scheduling conflict with one of their classes. But this afternoon Damico is tutoring Williams for her French class.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Damico said. “When I first came here it was a very different Manhattan College. It’s changed a lot, its become a lot more diverse but, that doesn’t mean that it can’t continue to become more diverse. There’s an effort being made and the school is really determined to do that. I mean look at this place, this is a wonderful thing.”

Damico has worked closely with international students for 31 years, as somewhat of a gatekeeper for students who come to the United States. Keeping check of the rules and regulations that come with being an international student and working closely with Homeland Security to make sure those requirements are met.

“I try to make it easy for them so that they don’t run into any difficulty, so that their whole stay here runs smoothly,” Damico said.

As an advisor Damico communicates with students before they arrive to the United States and helps them get situated to the new customs.

“I like to have that communication so that when they walk in the first day I feel like I know them,” Damico said. “Sometimes we have such a relationship by emailed that its like ‘oh, finally I’m seeing your face,’ you know. Its like putting a face to the person that you’ve been communicating with all summer. So its kind of nice having the ability to do that.”

A large amount of the student athletes are from Europe. Other students are from South America and Asia. China currently makes up the biggest international student population.

Due to new agreements with two schools in France, one in Leon and one just outside of Paris, the school now has 17 French graduate students.

In all, there are 41 international graduate students and 103 undergraduate students. However, there are also students who come from other parts of the world who aren’t considered international as it applies to Damico’s office.

“Sometimes they’ll come to me and I’ll help them adjust and, I hate to use the word, but I try to connect people when I know there are people that have similar interests and, who are from the same country,” Damico said. “I’ll ask the person who’s been here ‘can I put you in touch with this new person who needs help with this, or interested in this, or is from your country’ so I try to help them where I can.”

Damico also encourages students to attend events and to join student organizations such as the Italian club, the Gaelic Society or the new South Asian Student Association.

Clubs and Associations meet every other week in the Multicultural Center.

“I am pleased that the center is quickly becoming a place of support and advocacy for many student groups, such as students of color, first generation students, commuter students and international students,” Vice President for Student Life, Richard Satterlee, who came up with the vision of a centralized place where students and administration can work together to promote diversity, said.

The center is meant to be a resource center for information about different cultures. The administration is set on making sure the students shape and define the center.

A Director of Multicultural Affairs will soon be hired and will move into one of the three offices in the center. Students will be involved in the hiring process, overseeing interviews and looking over resumes with Emmanuel “Sonny” Ago, the Assistant Vice President for Student Life.

The director will be expected to oversee the programs, manage the space and create a leadership program for people interested in diversity. The person will also help develop a new peer mentoring program to help integrate students into the college community.

“I think the Multicultural Center and its faculty are very important part of Manhattan College as they are the ones that help promote and establish diversity throughout campus,” Saif Kaleem, sophomore, biochemistry major and president of the South Asian Student Association said. “I believe that their support with the various cultural student clubs and organizations significantly benefits the students and allows individuals to feel welcomed from all backgrounds.”

Ago, who is housed in the third office in the center has the biggest involvement in the diversity of the college and the Multicultural Center. Some of his responsibilities include managing the Multicultural Center and the Diversity Committee, supervising the director of fitness and the director of international student advising and, conducting orientations for the college.

Ago also helps organize events such as Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage, Irish Heritage and this weeks Chinese New Year event which will be co-sponsored by Fuerza Latina. He works very closely with the various student organizations alongside John Bennett, the director of student activities.

“The vision for the multicultural center is to engage students in co-curricular activities, leadership development, and dialogue as a critical part of preparing them for an increasingly interconnected world beyond Manhattan College,” Ago said. “Through these interactions, students learn about and from one another in preparation as informed, resilient and responsible global citizens. Central to the multicultural center’s vision is the recognition of the Lasallian Core Principles that encourage a ‘respect for all people’ and an ‘inclusive community.’”

Since the opening of the center students and leadership have been more involved in the discussion of diversity than ever.

Part of what funds these clubs and events is a small amount of money that comes from everyone’s student activities fee at the start of every semester that is put toward the colleges diversity fund.

“I think, you know, the college is putting their money where their mouth is. They didn’t have to put a Multicultural Center here. That space could’ve been for something else right? But I think it shows and the students are coming and their using it. They meet here, every other week Fuerza Latina meets here, the Commuter Association Committee meets here, we have retreats out of here and they all come so people are really using it.”

As a result of the the immediate use of the center, the room hasn’t been decorated Ago said, who thought the center would take at least a year to establish. The space will soon be revamped with framed event posters and decoration.

“The multicultural center is essential for the college moving forward, considering the changing times and the melting pot of a city we live in,” Ivan Bohorquez, President of Fuerza Latina and active member of the colleges Diversity Committee said. “Diversity attracts students, and with the proper promotion and event planning that incorporates the entire student body, it can be what makes the college attractive. Diversity above all is the appreciation of different cultures.”

On its agenda the Multicultural Center is also thinking about the diversity among faculty members. A number of faculty members have spoken about creating a committee focussed on diversity in the hiring of faculty and administration, Ago said.

“Many other schools and universities have similar centers and programs,” Satterlee said. “As we have defined what our Multicultural Center would be, however, it was important that students had a role in shaping it. I think that has happened.”