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Center Supports Students, Rallies Around Diversity

Photo by Patrick Bradley.

Volume Up

One new Campus Life department is changing the topic of conversation at AU.

Once the GLBTA Resource Center, Multicultural Affairs, and the Women’s Resource Center, the recently opened Center for Diversity & Inclusion welcomes students, staff, faculty and alumni of all identities, and that welcome is resonating across AU.

Coordinator for LGBTQ programming Matt Bruno believes the Center has provided a much-needed forum for dialogues about diversity – an issue championed in AU’s strategic plan. For Bruno, all the campus needed was a clear sign of where people could approach the topic.

“The name has allowed people to find a spot on campus that allows them to have those conversations,” he says.

These conversations include those around the Center’s programming and services, which range from one-on-one student advising and the celebration of various heritage months to the first-year Summer Transition Enrichment Program (STEP).

Isaac Agbeshie-Noye, the Center’s assistant director for student success and retention, sees all of these factors as means not only to affect individual students’ lives but also as a shift in the larger university focus. Though having opened just this past fall, he sees evidence already pointing to this shift.

“We’ve been able to put the concept of diversity and inclusion, however anybody defines it, on people’s radars. There are more people, whether they’re to interview people for AU magazine or SOC doing diversity week. That was the theme of the faculty retreat. People are thinking, ‘What could we be doing?’” he says. “That conversation has shifted fairly quickly.”

Inclusion = Education

Agbeshie-Noye believes this attention to diversity and inclusion is essential on any college campus, allowing the free exchange of ideas that underpins a solid institution like AU.

“If you don’t have an inclusive environment, then you can’t really facilitate any learning,” he says. “We have to build this culture of inclusion in order to fulfill our mission of educating these new citizens to engage communities and really make change.”

College of Arts & Sciences senior Christal Jerez is, she admits, a big fan of the Center and its work.

“I think it’s really important. I always recommend it to students,” she says. “It’s a safe space for students who are really struggling with finding their identity on campus or making these full connections.”

The Los Angeles native came to AU through STEP and found a home in the Multicultural Affairs department, now one of the facets that makes up the Center for Diversity & Inclusion. She lauds the staff – which includes seven full-time members – for all they’ve done to support her AU experience.

“As a person, they always push you to do the best you can,” she says. “I’ve always surpassed my expectations because of them. They’ve helped me set high expectations for myself.”

Personal Approach

While programming such as STEP and Heritage Month celebrations highlights the Center’s work, Bruno wants to emphasize how Jerez’s experience is also a defining feature for the new Center. The larger campus conversation is critical, but – in the end – it’s the personal approach that marks AU.

“We’re here more than just for programming,” he says. “We do programs, and we want people to be more knowledgeable around the major topics that are faced by the communities we mostly serve, but I also want students to know we’re here to answer questions, have conversations, and not necessarily about any of the identities we focus on.”

Looking back on when she first arrived at AU, Jerez recalls how she found support in an unfamiliar place and how that support – as it extends to any and all students at American University – continues for her.

“I come from a first-generation family. No one knows about college, financial aid. No one knows what a dorm is or residential life. This [Center] was useful for me. You can read about it as you want online, but coming through STEP, they broke it down for me,” she says. “That sort of help has been consistent throughout my entire college career.”

If nothing else, that kind of support, that welcome could resonate anywhere.