Diversity Programming with Pizzazz
By Shawn McQuillan, Resident Assistant, Eastern Connecticut State University
Often one of the most challenging things that any paraprofessional or even professional in student services faces is to help foster and develop student’s minds to both accept and appreciate diversity and multiculturalism. In residence life we often come across students with preconceived notions, instilled biases, and incorrect prejudices about different cultures, races, and religions. It is too often and common that a Resident Assistant will hear “I can’t live with a black roommate”, or “She is gay, she might hit on me”, and many more. However, while these statements and beliefs seem as troublesome and upsetting as they are they do come up in residence communities, and it is something that any student leader or professional staff member in student affairs must face.
The first major step or contribution that a Resident Assistant can do is to provide programming focused on diversity and multiculturalism that addresses a wide spectrum of issues, cultures, and topics pertinent to diversity. Sure it is easy to plan that ice cream social or pizza party, to put up that fun cartoon facts bulletin board, and we all know that these types of programs are fun and will always have good attendance. But how do they help educate residents on different cultures? How do they prepare them for the upcoming world where not everyone is cut from the same mold? This is where diversity and multicultural programming come into play. Granted they aren’t always the easy programs to come up with, facilitate, and plan, nor maybe even the fun programs to do, but they are not as hard as you think. They can be both creative, educational, and as much fun as you want them to be.
When planning these programs you have many resources at your disposal that many RA’s are not aware of. Often it is not realized that throughout a year there are multiple celebrations of diversity that go on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. The celebrations themselves present a possible plethora of programming possibilities that any RA could easily create a program out of. Whether it is a program centered around Latin American Awareness Month with a Latin potluck dinner in April, or a Diwali Festival party, celebrating the Indian New Year in October, there are many choices to choose from. There is not a single month where no celebration of diversity and differences are going on. All one has to do to find out is contact your professional staff, diversity center on campus, go out to the great information superhighway which has oodles of information, or check out the “monthly memorabilia” button on the RA page of www.reslife.net.
Another wonderful resource when it comes to diversity programming is the various faculty, staff, and administration on a college campus. Many times your professors, secretaries, deans, and other staff come from various walks of life and have interesting stories to tell or talents to showcase. Don’t be afraid to get out there and ask the campus community for assistance. In my personal experiences I have never run into a staff member who works at a college campus who is not more than willing to do a program about there culture, experiences, or expertise. Who knows you could have a renowned African American story teller right in your own back yard. Also don’t be afraid to utilize the various student clubs and organizations on your campus as a possible programming tool. Many campuses have multicultural clubs that range from Latin American Awareness organizations, to Muslim Student Associations, who in most cases would be more than willing to work with you.
The local community is another tool that should be utilized on a regular basis. Don’t forget that your college or university is located in a town or city that has many wonderful resources at your disposal. Who knows all you may need to do is look to the phone book and find a person with a unique background or story to tell. A perfect example of this is I put together a program last year for Native American Awareness Month, where I had a Native American woman come in and teach the residents to make dream catchers and so much more. She told them Native American stories, performed a ritual smudging ceremony, and answered a multitude of questions that the residents had about Native Americans, customs, dream catchers, and the culture itself. She was such a wonderful resource, as she provided all the supplies, and her services for a small minimal fee that was well worth it.
One last possible resource that I must admit for the longest time I overlooked, and so do many other RA’s is other RA’s or professional staff in your housing department. Believe it or not the RA’s and professional staff most likely have various services to offer when it comes to programs, and have special things about them that could make for a great diversity program.
Now that you know your resources, and have your ideas, what’s next? We’ll now is the fun part of the job, creating, designing, and choosing what diversity program(s) to do and how to do them. When planning diversity programs throughout the year make sure you have mixture of topics, and different presentation styles. Give the residents programs that are fun, serious, and don’t forget the power of passive programming known as bulletin boards. I know it is a lot to remember, but easy to do.
In all diversity programming is not as hard to do as it seems. All it really takes is a little extra time, some research, and maybe an occasional dollar or two, but in the end the results are far more worth the costs. You may have spent hours researching about Black History Month, but you have taught someone who knew nothing about the month or the culture. Just remember diversity programs are not as hard as they seem. If you manage to open the eyes of one resident, expand the horizons of a few, or teach your community something about another culture, you have done your job and so much more.
About the Author
Shawn McQuillan is currently in his Senior year at Eastern Connecticut State University where he is double majoring in Psychology and English. He has worked in Residence Life for three years as a Resident Assistant at Eastern Connecticut State University and this past summer as an ACUHO-I Intern at the University of Alberta (Canada). During his time as a Resident Assistant Shawn has presented multiple programs on the topic of diversity and has interned with the campus Unity Center helping to plan campus diversity programs from Latin American Awareness Month, to the Tunnel of Oppression. He plans to graduate this May and enroll in a graduate degree program to get a degree in College Student Personnel Administration. Any questions, comments, or suggestions please e-mail Shawn at email@example.com