Emory Report
November 2, 2009
Volume 62, Number 9


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November 2, 2009
On a multicultural mission

By Margie Fishman

Having recently come out as a gay man to his parents, Scot Seitz, then an incoming Emory freshman, was searching for a community that welcomed diversity and promoted active discussion among different identity groups.

Now a senior, Seitz looks back on his first Freshman Crossroads retreat sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS) as an “awakening.” Through role play and barrier-breaking activities, he gained a window into how students of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds experience the world.

“The unique mission of OMPS is to get people talking to each other and learning from each other,” he says.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, OMPS has planned a series of events pegged to its core mission: Developing a more pluralistic Emory community by emphasizing cross-cultural competence and global citizenship.

On Nov. 13, OMPS will host a reception at the DUC Art Gallery beginning at 2 p.m. to highlight an exhibit of more than 60 photographs, articles and art posters that trace the history of the office in its advocacy for minority and diversity issues. The event will feature a video with interviews from OMPS founding director, Lelia Crawford, and previous OMPS administrators, along with a slideshow of signature OMPS events.

Emory’s Unity Month celebration kicks off in November with workshops, discussions and activities developed by students that promote a shared sense of community. Events include the Diwali festival, an international potluck dinner, a networking event for minority undergraduates, Unity Ball and a keynote address on the experience of interracial families in the post-civil rights era by author Elliott Lewis. On Nov. 17, Provost Earl Lewis will lead an informative question and answer session for the University community about diversity and race at Emory. For a full listing of Unity Month events, visit www.emory.edu/multicultural.

“We recognize that our social identities don’t just fall into one category,” says Assistant Dean of Campus Life and OMPS Director Donna Wong. “There’s a whole intersection of identities that we want people to explore and discover to feel empowered about who they are.”

OMPS was originally established in 1979 as the Office of Minority Student Programs to primarily serve African American students, then the largest minority group at the University representing about 3 percent of the population.

Crawford, now director of Emory’s Office of International Student and Scholar Programs, laid the groundwork for programs that continue today, including a peer mentoring program and what is now the Delores P. Aldridge Excellence Awards, honoring students, faculty and staff for their leadership, service and research in diversity issues.

Today, minority groups constitute more than one-third of the Emory student population and OMPS provides a resource library, intimate discussion groups, diversity workshops and a student theater troupe to raise awareness and stimulate dialogue about race, bias and difference. OMPS also is actively involved in working to retain students of color and support their successful transition to Emory.

While the University has become more integrated in recent years with the support of the administration, the larger society is still playing catch up, says Crawford.

“For the near future,” she says, “we still need to bring students of different backgrounds together so that the negative stereotypes and images can be overcome.”