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Monday, November 29, 2021

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Student Center for Equity and Inclusion launches pilot program THRIVE

<p>The Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground merged into the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion. Its new office is located on the second floor of Whitehurst.</p>

The Multicultural Affairs and Common Ground merged into the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion. Its new office is located on the second floor of Whitehurst.

THRIVE, a new program created by the Student Center for Equity and Inclusion, offers monthly meetings for  multicultural and international students to build community, connection and empowerment, according to the THRIVE program page. 

Morgan Russell-Stokes, senior associate director of the student center for equity and inclusion, said she had been inspired to launch THRIVE after several students shared their disappointment that they did not have the opportunity to participate in the Multicultural Pre-Orientation hosted by the center. Multicultural Pre-Orientation is a three-day program that offers students of color the chance to engage and connect with new and returning students of color and international students. 

“Oftentimes, what I've seen when I advise multicultural students is that the story is the same, but I don't think they realize that it's happening to other people,” she said. “So they feel isolated, or, you know, they don't realize that someone else has also experienced this. They may not exactly look like them, right, but just have had that similar experience.”

Russell-Stokes designed THRIVE to serve as a year-long extension of Multicultural Pre-Orientation. THRIVE will host six meetings this school year which will give students access to discussion sessions, bonding activities and identity-building opportunities, according to the THRIVE program page. 

Cheryl Oppan, a first-year student and THRIVE member, said she valued the community aspect that both Multicultural Pre-Orientation and THRIVE have provided her. 

“I think, of course, when you come to a [predominantly white institution], … it could just sometimes feel like you're not included or there's not a lot of groups that you can join where you really feel like you can express yourself in a way where people are not like questioning you or questioning where you're from,” Oppan said.

Oppan shared that she had formed some of her closest friendships through Multicultural Pre-Orientation and joined THRIVE in order to continue building similar relationships. 

“[THRIVE] just feels like family. … You don't have to question like, ‘oh, am I supposed to be here or am I not?’ You don't have to second guess. ... You're a part of the group. You know that people welcome and accept you and we're just ready to hear you and listen to you,” Oppan said.

THRIVE is open to multicultural and international students, regardless of their graduation year or whether they participated in Multicultural Pre-Orientation. To prevent barriers for students, there is neither an application process, member dues nor a limit on the number of members, Russell-Stokes said. All interested students are encouraged to attend a meeting, she said. 

“My main goal is that when students that attend THRIVE and participate in any of the assessments say that by being in THRIVE, they were able to build a community, create a new relationship or strengthen a continued friendship,” Russell-Stokes said.

The THRIVE program advertises its events to students through emails sent to the multicultural student list server, flyers on campus and word of mouth. The Student Center for Equity and Inclusion Instagram is @scei_ur.

Russell-Stokes selects discussion topics for each meeting based on student survey responses and casual conversations with center student employees, she said. Topics include identity-building, connecting communities of color and becoming allies for students of color. Russell-Stokes leads discussions on the topics currently, but she hopes to shift that role to students in the future.

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First-year and THRIVE member Usra Karar described engaging with the organization as a valuable experience.

“[A group activity within the meeting] showed everyone's vulnerable side, which you don't really see often when you're interacting with a stranger,” Karar said.“And so I thought that was really meaningful, and I think it just made the room less tense.”

THRIVE hourly meetings are held every third Thursday of the month to minimize scheduling problems, Russell-Stokes said. 

In addition, THRIVE plans to host an off-campus event or activity each semester to build community. This semester, members went to Lloyd Farms, located in Hanover County, on Oct. 30 to partake in pumpkin-picking, corn mazes and other fall activities. The Student Center for Equity and Inclusion paid for transportation and ticket entry. 

THRIVE also plans to host a winter break mixer that will be open to all multicultural students in the Multicultural Student Space on Dec. 2., she said.

In the meantime, Oppan said, THRIVE has already made an impact.

“I just love kind of like the family aspect of it, but it's also just really cool to be in that space,” she said. “It just makes it feel like, okay, there's people who I can walk to and from class and know that they'll respond or know that they'll come up and talk to me, or that we share some commonalities that we can talk about on a day-to-day basis.”

Russell-Stokes plans to assess how THRIVE will move forward at the end of the school year and hopes that student leadership opportunities could include a mentorship program, she said.

Russell-Stokes added,“The impact that I would like to have is that communities of color are coming together and saying, I see you, you see me ... let's build a community together. Let's be friends. Let's just be there for each other in whatever way looks good and is supportive for us.”

Contact writer Teresa Rozier at teresa.rozier@richmond.edu. 

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