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OMA changes name, expands vision

April 7th, 2011

The Office of Multicultural Affairs is changing its name, among other transformations that John Carroll University will make to the office to include more

underrepresented students. The search for a new director to replace Janetta Hammock, who left earlier this school year, is also underway.

OMA will now become the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion and will move into the Lombardo Student Center, in a space that has yet to be determined.

According to Vice President for Student Affairs Mark McCarthy, many voices were consulted to make the adjustments.

“Sherri Crahen, dean of students, and I engaged students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni in a series of focus groups last semester to learn more about their experiences with OMA and their ideas for how the office might best serve the needs of students from historically underrepresented groups at John Carroll,” he said in an e-mail. “We also consulted with colleagues at other Jesuit and private universities to learn about how [they are similarly] organized.”

As a result of the feedback received, new focuses were developed. Among these were providing educational programs and services for the student body, creating a sense of belonging for and working to recruit and retain students from historically underrepresented students, providing opportunities on campus for students to engage in leadership and cultural experiences and promoting personal growth of students based on understanding of identities.

Sophomore Curtis Walker, former African American Alliance president, likes the direction the University is taking with the change in name.

“I believe the new name expands the organization’s ‘umbrella,’ reaching out towards more students,” Walker said. “With the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the name alone implied to many students that it was solely for minority students. This new direction of re-naming the office ‘The Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion’ now gives off a more welcoming meaning to me and for all students.”

Walker said the administration was also very receptive to the suggestions of students that participated in the focus groups.

“Every opinion, concern and possible resolution from students was jotted down and addressed in one way or another,” he said. “Whether these were feelings of concern about underrepresented groups being forgotten about or feelings of optimism toward a new direction, the administration wanted all students to feel comfortable in a place where they spend over $40,000 to attend every year just like everyone else.”

Crahen believes that the transition period presented an opportunity to take a step back, gather input and look at how to tweak what is already in place.

“We were intentional with our language in talking about students from underrepresented groups,” she said. “But we did that on purpose because this office not only serves students of color but there can be students from other underrepresented groups that aren’t necessarily students of color that this office would serve.”

During this school year, OMA has been staffed, in part, by Crahen and Assistant Dean of Students Donna Byrnes. Crahen said OMA has not been utilized the same way this year as in past years when Hammock and former secretary Marlo Henderson staffed the office.

“Some students of color had a really strong connection with Marlo Henderson,” Crahen said. “When Marlo left, that was really hard for them, which is totally understandable. She was great.”

Walker said he has not visited the office as much this year.

“Last year, I used the office frequently, being president of John Carroll’s African American Alliance,” he said. “They were always there to help me with whatever I needed for the organization, but also to help me as an individual, making sure I was on top of everything in my life. This year, it has been different. I still visit the office, but not as much. A great part of it is due to me not being president of AAA anymore and another part is because I’m still getting used to the new, yet temporary personnel in the office.”

Crahen said she and Byrnes have learned a lot from students during the time they have spent working in the office. She believes that student leaders in organizations representing students of color face the same challenges as many other student organizations.

“Some of the student leadership are involved in many activities along in addition to their academics, and it’s difficult to balance everything,” Crahen said. “[Another challenge is] getting students to come to the programs.”

In terms of inclusiveness on campus of historically underrepresented groups, Crahen believes the University community needs to do more.

“We have quite a bit of work to do,” she said. “Students from underrepresented groups probably feel pretty good about the academic experience that they have here [and] the quality of the faculty. But I think if you talk to them about the social experience here, it’s much more challenging because we still hear stories about acts of intolerance that happen on this campus, outside the classroom, and we still hear stories about what it feels like to be the only student of color in a class.”

Walker said that in the time he has been a student at JCU, he feels the University has done a good job promoting diversity.

“The University has held many events for cultural holidays and has always recognized their achievements,” he said. “With this new direction, I feel we can go even further in joining these underrepresented groups with everyone else.”

Candidates from across the country were able to apply for the position for director of the new center up until April 1. The search committee will meet and identify six to eight candidates to interview by phone next week, according to Crahen. During the week after Easter, three to four candidates will be brought to campus for interviews.

Crahen said students would be involved in the process to pick the new director, such as having lunch and participating in an open forum with the candidates.

In the job description, qualifications required for the position were a Master’s Degree in student personnel administration, higher education administration and related fields. The candidates were also required to have “at least five years of progressively responsible experience in higher education with significant experience supervising staff and directing a program or service area,” according to the description.