This January, Hayden Greene joined Manhattan College’s staff as the first director of multicultural affairs.
While Greene has only been at the college a couple of months, his student life position has been in the works for several years—tied closely with the creation of the new Multicultural Center located in the Kelly Commons.
“I think it is important to have someone who is absolutely dedicated to issues of diversity and inclusion at Manhattan College,” Sonny Ago, assistant vice president for student life, said.
“You would be hard-pressed to find a college or university without this position. But while Hayden is the director here, we are all pitching in to support him in his role.”
Greene boasts 20 years of experience in the field of higher education—most recently serving as the director of leadership development at Barnard College and the director of student activities at Medgar Evers College, located in his native Brooklyn.
He was attracted to the position at MC because as the first director of multicultural affairs he would have the opportunity to create programming and shape the role of his office from the ground up.
“The first and foremost thing that we are interested in doing is creating environments where everybody’s identities and all of their identities can find a place to thrive and express themselves.”
But Greene stresses that with this also must come the oftentimes challenging work of learning to understand each others’ identities and moving outside our own comfort zones.
“We want to shy away from the using the phrase ‘be comfortable’ because the work that needs to be done by this office is going to make you a little bit uncomfortable. Learning is at the edge of our comfort level,” Greene said.
“This office is really geared to making you think, making you develop, making you grow. And as such we are asking everyone to be brave. We are creating brave spaces and new initiatives on campus.”
Specifically, he looks to bring people in to the Center to experience multiculturalism and diversity while facilitating cross-cultural programming between various groups on campus.
He will also be offering workshops and training sessions to student and faculty leaders to better understand the identities of those they are responsible with guiding.
Some of those programs include frequent trivia nights on various cultural groups and guided discussion topics open to the entire community.
On March 28, the Multicultural Center is sponsoring “Shout!” an evening of cultural expression by all-women groups including a West-African dance troupe, Bahngra dancers, and Manhattan’s very own Jasper dancers—all in celebration of Women’s History Month.
However, Green acknowledges that one of his main challenges will be getting people to attend these events and discussions. He attributes that somewhat to the school’s Lasallian heritage, where inclusivity and good will to all are already seen as key principles of the college’s mission and ideology and may therefore be overlooked.
“You walk onto this campus and think that these are the tenants of what we believe in, everybody is nice to everybody and everybody believes in the equity of man and all the rest of that stuff. It gives you a surface experience of all of these issues and the misconception that everything is ok,” Greene said.
“When in fact there are deeper topics that need to be talked about. The challenge is really bringing people to the table who don’t think that there should be anything to be talked about.”
On a more logistical side, he also recognizes that the college’s busy schedule and usually packed activities periods will pose an additional challenge of attracting participants to Multicultural Center programs.
In recent months, there has seemingly been a rise in events on campus related to the topics of diversity and inclusion—some organized by the Multicultural Center and others by students and faculty. These include racial justice teach-ins, a college-wide petition for inclusivity, and the most recent mock border built on the quadrangle.
Ago attributes this of course to the current political climate and discussion in the United States, but also to the increasing college population of first-generation college attendees, Hispanics and other underrepresented student groups.
“Those particular students have been integral to really helping us formulate our programmatic agenda of the Multicultural Center,” Ago said. “It’s really our students that come to us to let us know what is really needed in the community.”
Senior Ivan Bohorquez is the current president and founder of Fuerza Latina, one of the cultural groups on campus active in the Center. On a basic level, the creation of the Multicultural Center has helped provide a much-needed physical space for groups like his to meet and hold programs. He looks forward to the work to be performed by Greene in his new role.
“Recognizing the college has not traditionally been the most diverse campus, or has represented the interests of minority students too well, his position gives students like me hope that a more enriching component will be added to the Manhattan College community—the appreciation and promotion of multiculturalism,” Bohorquez said.
However, like Ago, he believes the work extends to the community at large, not just one office.
“Multiculturalism is everyone’s responsibility, and although we have a new director for multicultural affairs, as a Lasallian institution that values inclusion, I firmly believe it is the responsibility of every student, faculty, and staff to promote multiculturalism and truly create an inclusive community.”