Years in the making, UMB’s Intercultural Leadership and Engagement Center provides students with the support and opportunities they requested for groups from diverse backgrounds to come together.
This initiative grew out of a multicultural center task force and report as well as feedback from students, faculty, and staff via multiple meetings within each school and a survey. The center also will advance outcomes identified from the student campus climate survey results. A visioning committee will guide the work of the future executive director in the development of the center.
The student-led push for this center did not come as a surprise to Patty Alvarez, PhD, MS, assistant vice president of student affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB).
“We have excellent student leaders who use their voice and care about their peers,” says Alvarez, who co-chaired the multicultural center task force. “Students want to support one another and want to leave UMB better than how they found the University. They shared feedback regarding what they would find helpful and based it on what they experienced on other campuses — and for many, they engaged with a similar center as undergraduate students on other campuses. “
The Intercultural Leadership and Engagement Center, which is expected to be housed in the SMC Campus Center, will make meaningful contributions in promoting UMB’s Statement on Cultural Competence by providing a space where all individuals feel valued, recognized, and affirmed and assist in creating co-curricular experiences to positively influence the cultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes of students and the University community, according to the center’s Executive Summary.
“This is what students told us they want,” says former UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD. “They want a space where they can find connections with students who share their background and experiences — but just as importantly, they want connections with students who are nothing like themselves, so they can get to the deep conversations that shape our perspectives and help us make meaning. Most of all, they want opportunities to develop as culturally competent professionals so that, when they graduate, they’re ready to provide responsive care and counsel to all populations.”
One of the dozens of students, especially from the University of Maryland School of Social Work, who advocated for the new center was Vanessa Gonzalez-Wright, MSW ’19, who is now assistant director of Latinx student development and diversity at Towson University’s Center for Student Diversity. She so impressed Alvarez that she was asked to co-chair the multicultural center task force.
She is proud to have played a role in the UMB center’s development.
“The center is needed to provide more intentional support to students from marginalized and under-represented communities as well as to provide educational resources to all students,” Gonzalez-Wright says. “This center could have the capacity to build on the work that has already been done by the campus through ISLSI [the Office of Interprofessional Student Learning and Service Initiatives] but make it more accessible to more students. In my current role at Towson University I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact that a center could have on the identity development of students and therefore positively impact their educational experience.”
Gonzalez-Wright and Alvarez met with nearly 300 students during 10 meetings in 2018 with student organization leadership groups on campus. Smaller groups of staff and faculty also contributed input.
“We worked with the student affairs deans in each school to determine the best groups to meet,” Alvarez says. “We received a consistent and affirmative response in support of establishing a multicultural center from nearly everyone who provided feedback. Approval for the creation of the center was communicated over the summer — presidential transformational funding was awarded to support the hiring of an executive director.”
The executive director is expected to be named in spring 2020, after a national search is conducted. The University community will be invited to participate in the interview process. The executive director will work to bring a three-pronged mission statement to life.
- Provide a space and programming where under-represented students can find support. The center will assist in creating networks of support across each of the schools to maximize the impact of these leaders and scholars.
- Provide innovative co-curricular and curricular intercultural and interprofessional leadership development experiences to all students to prepare them with the awareness, knowledge, and skills needed to serve as culturally competent professionals.
- Serve as a strategic partner with faculty, staff, and administrators interested in and charged with creating an inclusive climate and advancing priorities focused on diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Gonzalez-Wright, who was the Diversity Advisory Council’s choice for Outstanding UMB Student at the 2019 Black History Month event for her work with Latinx Unidos for Community Healing and Awareness (LUCHA), is grateful to have attended a University that shows such support for diversity.
“My experience as a student leader with LUCHA greatly demonstrated the importance and impact of facilitating spaces on campus that not only validated students’ educational experience, but also their identity. Working as a diversity fellow with ISLSI, I was provided with mentorship from the amazing staff. Through this experience I grew so much as a professional and learned about the barriers that exist in changing the culture of a campus and implementing new initiatives.”
Alvarez also acknowledged the many great contributions of ISLSI for providing diversity and inclusion programming and workshops that are well regarded on campus. She also thanked the nearly 30 members of the multicultural center task force and feels that UMB is fortunate to have so many diversity champions, including now-Chancellor Perman.
“Students used their voice and we listened — this includes the School of Social Work students who originally met with Dr. Perman and Dr. [Roger] Ward as well as all of the students and members of the UMB community who provided feedback to the multicultural center task force,” Alvarez says. “Students helped to create institutional change that will improve how they and future students experience the campus.”