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Sunday, December 05, 2021

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Office of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground become the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion

<p>Whitehurst, the seat of Richmond College, overlooks many of the residence and academic buildings.</p>

Whitehurst, the seat of Richmond College, overlooks many of the residence and academic buildings.

On Aug. 30, the University of Richmond officially launched the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion, a combination of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground.

The SCEI, located on the second floor of Whitehurst, was created to “cultivate inclusive communities and empower students to be affirmed in the intersections of their identities and amplify the voices of these populations,” according to the SCEI mission statement. The new office centers around helping students who identify as multicultural, LGBTQ and first-generation and enhancing low-income students’ campus experiences, according to the SCEI website

Last September, the University of Richmond approved for the OMA and Common Ground to become one office, Dr. Morgan Russell, senior director, said. The Protect Our Web movement expedited the process to create a new office, Russell said.

Prior to becoming the new SCEI office, there were two different, smaller offices, Russel and Associate Director Lisa Miles said. OMA had been at UR for 30 years and Common Ground had for 15 years, Russell said. 

Keeling and Associates, in partnership with the University's Office of Institutional Effectiveness, surveyed nearly 600 students and released the Making Excellence Inclusive report on June 30, 2019. The report revealed that many students were confused about both offices, Miles said. 

The idea for implementing the SCEI had been in the making for years, but it was not until the survey came out that both offices noticed the confusion among students, Russell said. 

Although the offices had tried to work together over the years, they never truly created that culture of regular collaboration, Miles said. They wanted to take the offices to the next level and report to the same director with a shared mission and a new name, Miles said. 

"Students felt that there was not enough programming and that we [the offices] were not doing as well as we could have been," Miles said. "The concern was particularly around not enough being done around racial and ethnic minority groups."

The survey data allowed both offices to see the gaps, particularly with most students wanting more affinity groups for Latinx and AAPI students, Russell said. They also wanted to make sure there was a male of color initiative because there had not been one for a while, Russell said. 

"Students do not have a single identity," Miles said in regards to students being confused about where to seek resources. "They can be a queer person of color or a racial minority, who is also first-generation."

OMA and Common Ground staff had realized the intersection of identities had prompted the offices to work together closely, Russell said. 

"They don’t have to pick and choose," Russell said. "Students could belong to both offices.

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"When [both offices] were creating new programs, we were trying to see how we can have a greater impact with the center as a new office could not come out with a ton of brand new because they don’t have enough [staff and resources] to do so."

Instead, staff looked into their current areas and saw how they could revamp the programming, Russell said. 

“New students wanted more of us as well, and some of what we have done is try to pair down some things that we were doing before so that we could make room for more pieces and more support,” Miles said.  

In Whitehurst, the SCEI is now located above the multicultural space and near many first-year residence halls, Russell said. 

"I want the SCEI to be everywhere on campus, and I want it to be a staple on the campus for other clubs to get trainings and get involved," Russell said. 

The office also has a larger LGBTQ lounge, Miles added. 

The SCEI is committed to listen to and engage with students, Miles said. One of these efforts is THRIVE, which was started this year to act as a year-long extension of multicultural pre-orientation. 

The SCEI hopes THRIVE, which meets every third Thursday of each month, will grow and create mentorship relationships, Russell said. 

There will also be an initiative focusing on men of color, Russell said. With this new initiative, she hopes that men of color on campus will be able to see themselves reflected in other men of color who are faculty and staff on campus, and she hopes they will be able to create mentor-mentee relationships. 

SCEI will also have an AAPI Women’s Leadership group led by Jennifer Erkulwater, chair of the department of Political Science, and Tze Loo, associate professor of History and Global Studies, Russell said.

Café Con Leche, a Latinx Student Network, will also meet regularly in the Multicultural Space, Russell added. A new mural will be in progress beginning in September, but the space will still remain open while the artist works on it, Russell said. 

Monthly Tuesday Cultural Kickbacks will start in October at the Multicultural Space, Russell said. All students are invited to come and enjoy food that will be representative of the multicultural communities found on campus.

Questions about programs being held through the SCEI can be directed to mrussell@richmond.edu.  

Contact news writer Jasmin Portillo at jasmin.portillo@richmond.edu.

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