Often one of the most challenging things that any paraprofessional or even professional in student services faces is to help foster and develop student’s minds to both accept and appreciate diversity and multiculturalism. In residence life we often come across students with preconceived notions, instilled biases, and incorrect prejudices about different cultures, races, and religions. It is too often and common that a Resident Assistant will hear “I can’t live with a black roommate”, or “She is gay, she might hit on me”, and many more. However, while these statements and beliefs seem as troublesome and upsetting as they are they do come up in residence communities, and it is something that any student leader or professional staff member in student affairs must face.
The first major step or contribution that a Resident Assistant can do is to provide programming focused on diversity and multiculturalism that addresses a wide spectrum of issues, cultures, and topics pertinent to diversity. Sure it is easy to plan that ice cream social or pizza party, to put up that fun cartoon facts bulletin board, and we all know that these types of programs are fun and will always have good attendance. But how do they help educate residents on different cultures? How do they prepare them for the upcoming world where not everyone is cut from the same mold? This is where diversity and multicultural programming come into play. Granted they aren’t always the easy programs to come up with, facilitate, and plan, nor maybe even the fun programs to do, but they are not as hard as you think. They can be both creative, educational, and as much fun as you want them to be.
When planning these programs you have many resources at your disposal that many RA’s are not aware of. Often it is not realized that throughout a year there are multiple celebrations of diversity that go on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis. The celebrations themselves present a possible plethora of programming possibilities that any RA could easily create a program out of. Whether it is a program centered around Latin American Awareness Month with a Latin potluck dinner in April, or a Diwali Festival party, celebrating the Indian New Year in October, there are many choices to choose from. There is not a single month where no celebration of diversity and differences are going on. All one has to do to find out is contact your professional staff, diversity center on campus, go out to the great information superhighway which has oodles of information, or check out the “monthly memorabilia” button on the RA page of www.reslife.net.
Another wonderful resource when it comes to diversity programming is the various faculty, staff, and administration on a college campus. Many times your professors, secretaries, deans, and other staff come from various walks of life and have interesting stories to tell or talents to showcase. Don’t be afraid to get out there and ask the campus community for assistance. In my personal experiences I have never run into a staff member who works at a college campus who is not more than willing to do a program about there culture, experiences, or expertise. Who knows you could have a renowned African American story teller right in your own back yard. Also don’t be afraid to utilize the various student clubs and organizations on your campus as a possible programming tool. Many campuses have multicultural clubs that range from Latin American Awareness organizations, to Muslim Student Associations, who in most cases would be more than willing to work with you.
The local community is another tool that should be utilized on a regular basis. Don’t forget that your college or university is located in a town or city that has many wonderful resources at your disposal. Who knows all you may need to do is look to the phone book and find a person with a unique background or story to tell. A perfect example of this is I put together a program last year for Native American Awareness Month, where I had a Native American woman come in and teach the residents to make dream catchers and so much more. She told them Native American stories, performed a ritual smudging ceremony, and answered a multitude of questions that the residents had about Native Americans, customs, dream catchers, and the culture itself. She was such a wonderful resource, as she provided all the supplies, and her services for a small minimal fee that was well worth it.
One last possible resource that I must admit for the longest time I overlooked, and so do many other RA’s is other RA’s or professional staff in your housing department. Believe it or not the RA’s and professional staff most likely have various services to offer when it comes to programs, and have special things about them that could make for a great diversity program.
Now that you know your resources, and have your ideas, what’s next? We’ll now is the fun part of the job, creating, designing, and choosing what diversity program(s) to do and how to do them. When planning diversity programs throughout the year make sure you have mixture of topics, and different presentation styles. Give the residents programs that are fun, serious, and don’t forget the power of passive programming known as bulletin boards. I know it is a lot to remember, but easy to do.
Fun Diversity Programs
Don’t think just because you are presenting a program about a culture it has to be serious 100 percent of the time. You can still educate residents about a culture, and have fun while doing it, but the key is to have fun in either a cultural or educational purpose. One thing that can often be fun is to make games for the residents to participate in, but you can make these games something from the culture they are learning about. For example let’s say you are doing a program about Dia De Los Muertos. Some possible ideas for this is to have a celebration with food from the Mexican culture, have the residents participate in children and adult games, make candy, while also providing information and other possible resources to the residents about the culture and the holiday itself. After all is said and done, the residents had fun, but also learned a little about another culture whether they intended to or not.
Another possible outlet for fun diversity programs is to have the residents create arts and crafts items from that culture. I have found that often if the residents have something to take away with them from the program then they are more happy and likely to come. All you have to do is research a possible culture, holiday, or celebration, discover if they create anything in particular for the celebration and then teach the residents to make there own version. Not only do they learn about the culture, but they also have a reminder to allow them to never forget.
One other possible diversity program format that comes in real handy is to create a competition or trivia games about different cultures, or holidays with facts that residents may or may not know. With this format allow the residents an opportunity to learn facts about the culture, such as posting random facts around the building a week in advance or so, or some other way and then have a jeopardy version game with little prizes for the winner. Believe it or not the prizes don’t have to be big or expensive. Often I have seen residents just like to participate for the competition, and you know that we are all competitive!
Serious Diversity Programs
While having fun with programs is always a blast you as an RA must also not forget to provide programs on more of a serious nature. Plain and simple there are just some topics that can’t be made lightly and must be presented in an effective and impacting way. A lot of times these types of programs do require serious work, but they pay out in the end when you see how truly impacting they are upon residents. In these types of programs you find a way to reach the residents about a topic such as the Holocaust or Hate Crimes through discussion, visual stimulus, and multimedia presentations. Believe it or not a slideshow, a movie, or a discussion can be just as impacting, informative, and influential as any class, or other type of program.
One possible diversity program on a serious format that myself and other RAs have presented is one on hate crimes, and hate itself through a multimedia presentation with just pictures and sounds. All you need to do is turn out the lights, flip on the presentation, and watch your resident’s expressions and attitudes about what they are seeing. Afterwards make sure to have a discussion and follow-up about the program, and often you will find that residents have learned a great deal about a topic, and in many cases become very emotional about what they saw. However, remember when presenting these programs allow each resident the opportunity to process what they saw and talk about it with you, and the rest of the group, whether it take 5 minutes, or 1 hour.
Another possible diversity program that can be used that is serious and effective it to have a speaker come in and have them speak about themselves, or there lives and how it is effected by hatred or something else. You can also present presentations with reenactments or scenarios of different forms of oppression, such as the Tunnel of Oppression, which is a program where residents are exposed to various forms of oppression as they walk through a building encountering multiple examples being acted out right in front of there very own eyes.
Passive Programming (a.k.a. Bulletin Boards)
One other possible programming tool that can be utilized when trying to educate on diversity and multiculturalism is the power of the bulletin board. Many RA’s do not realize how a creative, well designed, and informational bulletin board can truly make an impact on residents. Believe it or not resident do read the boards, and if it provides something more than jokes, or the occasional facts it is a possible outlet for further education about different cultures.
In all diversity programming is not as hard to do as it seems. All it really takes is a little extra time, some research, and maybe an occasional dollar or two, but in the end the results are far more worth the costs. You may have spent hours researching about Black History Month, but you have taught someone who knew nothing about the month or the culture. Just remember diversity programs are not as hard as they seem. If you manage to open the eyes of one resident, expand the horizons of a few, or teach your community something about another culture, you have done your job and so much more.
Submitted by Shawn McQuillan, Resident Assistant, Eastern Connecticut State University