Monday, August 31, 2009

Diversity Center helps campus celebrate differences

By Courtney Westlake



Snacks, comfortable couches, a big-screen television and a caring staff draw students into the Diversity Center – Student Life Building 22 – whether it be for studying, watching a popular TV show with friends or discussing the need for a particular service with a staff member.

“The Diversity Center is a space where students can come and be whoever it is they want to be,” said Herb Caldwell, admission and community partner counselor for the center. “But more importantly, we are made up of staff who are really student-oriented, who are really going to help the students get connected with other resources. That is really the strength of the Diversity Center - helping all students from all backgrounds and all cultures.”

The Diversity Center was created a year ago at UIS to develop the understanding of differences through educational, cultural and social activities. The opening of the center kicked off with an open house during Welcome Week 2008.

The Diversity Center fulfills a great need to the UIS campus, Caldwell said, helping students, staff and faculty to celebrate the differences between people.

“It's a diverse world; we come from so many different backgrounds - geographic, ethnicities, religious, cultural, how we identify sexually,” he said. “A lot of times, misunderstandings come from ignorance. So what the Diversity Center is really trying to do is bring all these different things together so we can celebrate these things that make us different.”

“You may not agree with everything, but you want to have understanding so there can be acceptance,” Caldwell added. “That is key, to not just have tolerance but acceptance.”

Many changes and progress have been made since the opening of the Center, Caldwell said, including the extension of the center’s hours, especially in the evenings and weekends.

“Being student-friendly, you have to be up and at 'em when the students are,” he said. “We try to really keep an open door policy in practical sort of way. Students rise late and are up late, so we try to be accessible to them.”

The Diversity Center is made up of staff members Caldwell, Jeannie Capranica, who is the program manager, Yolanda Beamon, the center's graduate assistant, and Dr. Clarice Ford, who is the associate dean of student support services and director of the Center. Under the Center also falls the Women’s Center – directed by Lynn Otterson –the LGBTQ Resource Office, and the Center for First-Year Students, Caldwell said.

“We make sure we have dialogue and co-exist peacefully in terms of unity as a campus,” Caldwell said.

The Diversity Center is offering several new programs this year, including the Necessary Steps mentoring program that connects first-year students with older students and the Host Family Program, which enables local alumni and community members to serve as models of success to students.

“Jeannie also runs the Cultural Dine-Out program, which is a wonderful program where students can meet and go feast out in the community at different ethnic restaurants,” Caldwell added. “It provides dialogue and an opportunity to learn and experience different cultures.”

Students are first priority at the Diversity Center, and the Center not only works with other offices in Students Affairs, but also on the academic and social sides as well, Caldwell said.

“We want to really meet students' needs on every level, always helping with the students,” he said. “And we do provide a lot of emergency assistance - students without books, a student living in the townhouses without food, or any services within the community- but there doesn't need to be any great need to come in and hang out.”

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