November 4, 2011

Emory Profile

Aysha Daniels: Multicultural harmony one hug at a time

Aysha Daniels is assistant director for the Office of Multicultural Programs & Services.

Aysha Daniels is a lover, not a fighter. The ambitious 23-year-old is known to hug casual acquaintances to make them feel welcome.

That warm reception extends to her role at Emory's Office of Multicultural Programs & Services (OMPS). As the new assistant director, she oversees the MORE (Multicultural Outreach and Resources at Emory) peer mentoring program. The program pairs about 130 Emory freshmen with upperclassmen, who introduce them to University resources, offer a sympathetic ear and invite them off-campus to carve pumpkins or act silly at Dave & Buster's.

Daniels, who joined Emory in June, talks with Emory Report about her multicultural upbringing, the pivotal leadership experiences that helped form her identity and how her office provides a safe space for students to cross cultural barriers.

What sparked your interest in multicultural programs?  

I am the child of a Venezuelan mother and Puerto Rican father. My parents' eclectic group of friends represented a variety of races, religions and sexual orientations. It was always ingrained in me that it was important to learn from and talk to people different from me to grow my own values.

I attended the University of Florida and earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology. At times, I felt like my peers would avoid discussing race and ethnicity because they didn't want to offend somebody or appear ignorant. As long as people approach others in a genuine way, seeking to learn from them about eating habits, style of dress or faith rituals without judgment, they will be receptive.

I earned my master's in higher education administration at Florida State University. While there, I joined the Theta Nu Xi Multicultural Sorority, interned at the university's career center and served as a graduate assistant in the Center for Multicultural Affairs, working with student leaders on diversity training. I gained a well-rounded understanding of campus life.

What led you to Emory?

What sold Emory for me and keeps me in love with the institution are the people here. The students ask tough questions and they are willing to have tough questions asked of them.

While at the University of Florida, I participated in the Gatorship multicultural leadership retreat, which encouraged me to have conversations about my personal identity development and branch out to meet new people. I also befriended one of the retreat leaders, an assistant vice president of student affairs, who would meet with me regularly to discuss family dynamics and career goals, along with providing a third opinion on questions like whether or not I should enroll in statistics in a given semester. That mentoring experience helped me to blossom, and I'd like to recreate that support structure at Emory.

What are some of your goals in your new position?

Among my goals is to raise the visibility of MORE, so that it is on freshmen's radar before they arrive on campus. I help lead activities for OMPS' Freshman Crossroads retreat to foster team-building and cross-cultural understanding. Something that is not in my job description, but that I have decided to take on, is advising minority and first-generation college students one-on-one. I encourage them to develop their extracurricular interests while still focusing on academics.

OMPS' couch is often crammed with a mixed group of students chatting about everything from course registration to politics. The most surprising thing to me is the amount of stress under which these students function. Some students serve as officers in a half-dozen clubs, juggle an internship and sign up for a full course load. I tell them that they need to sleep and that balance is important. If your outside activities are detracting too much from classroom and study time, you need to rethink your priorities.

What activities do you enjoy in your spare time?

Growing up, my friends joked that my mother used the public library as her babysitter. Now, I like hoarding books. I have two packed bookshelves and scattered boxes of texts and papers from middle school and high school. They provide a connection to the time when I first read them. One of my favorite books is "Love in the Time of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have read it in Spanish and English.

I am also an avid traveler, at least in theory. Sometimes, I find it difficult to carve out the time. But I did backpack through 10 countries in Europe in 35 days.

File Options

  • Print Icon Print