Aug. 20, 2009
Name change signals larger mission for Office of Intercultural Affairs
What's in a name? According to Ame Lambert, director of Northwest's Office of Intercultural Affairs, an opportunity to create an increasingly diverse campus where differences are celebrated and students from all ethnic and social backgrounds are empowered.
Formerly the Office of Minority Affairs, Lambert's unit, which was officially re-named last spring, is part of the University's Intercultural and International Center, an umbrella department charged with two main functions:
Advising, supporting and developing students from other countries, students of color who are citizens of the United States and students who are traveling abroad through the offices Intercultural Affairs, International Affairs, Study Abroad and English as a Second Language.
W orking for and focusing on campus-wide intercultural development.
"Words matter," Lambert said, "and the preferred term at an increasing number of colleges and universities is 'students of color' rather than 'minority students.' Too often when we use words like minority and majority, we go from speaking about quantity to communicating value. Also, given significant population growth among Latinos and other groups, using the word majority in a purely numerical sense will soon become inaccurate."
Lambert said the name change also better illustrates her office's twin goals of providing support and a "home away from home" for students of color while serving as a social justice and intercultural development resource for the campus community as a whole.
"We have a focus on students of color when it comes to support services, but we also organize campus-wide multicultural programming (like the MOSAIC intercultural festival) and serve as a resource for intercultural development through training and development," said Lambert, who noted such efforts as a new staff/community certification program and a variety of workshops and departmental/initiative consulting.
"It is important that we stress the office is doing a lot more than just providing support services for specialized populations or serving a relatively small number of students," she said.
New this fall for the Office of Intercultural Affairs is a "train the trainers" certification course for faculty, staff and community members called Intercultural U. L ambert said the 20-hour program represents an opportunity for people from different University departments and the community as a whole to come together and "develop a common language, a common vision and a common process."
"We want to be a lot more intentional, a lot more systemic about intercultural development," she said. "We cannot expand diversity conversations or promote campus-wide intercultural development through the 'a drop here and a drop there' method. What we want to do is graduate ethical citizens with the critical thinking and intercultural skills needed to thrive in a global, multicultural world."
Lambert said her office plans to continue the student Empowerment Institute begun last spring. Primarily designed for students of color, the institute focuses on developing a strong personal, cultural and social identity through activities that teach leadership and personal responsibility.
"We want to send people out to be leaders on campus," Lambert said. "We are very, very excited that two of our institute students from last year were elected to the Student Senate and will start serving their terms this fall."
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