With students from diverse backgrounds in mind, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) is adding positions and partnerships to its program to broaden its inclusivity for students and give them a more engaging experience.
Several positions are either being adapted or added as an initiative to enhance diverse offerings at the university, said Winston Jones, associate dean of students and OMA acting director. New positions include an assistant dean/director, a cultural initiatives coordinator for Latinx students, a cultural initiatives coordinator for Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans and Middle Eastern North African (APIDA/MENA) students, a gender equity coordinator and an assistant director for a persistence of diverse populations.
Jones believes the changes will impact students in a positive manner by eliminating the former broadness of the program. It will provide a more centralized and focused experience to students, he said.
“The most important thing is that it allows an experience of the opportunity for us to celebrate, to acknowledge across the spectrum of diversity, inclusion and belonging or equity, which will allow us to engage in a way that we’ve never been able to,” Jones said.
“We’re trying to figure out ways in which to engage in authentic and transparent conversations that will allow us to come closer together and become more aligned in this community that we’re building at and around USF. Our persistence and ability to engage our communities and to give support and outreach around the immediate university area has cultural significance.”
The plans for restructuring began summer 2020. A funding request was made to Student Government (SG) last spring, and the hiring process for the new positions began in May. The changes will add approximately $360,000 to the program’s budget, increasing OMA’s school year budget to approximately $940,000.
These changes were warranted after a thorough examination of the program showed there was noticeable room for improvement, Jones said.
“Given the size of the university, we did a comparative analysis and benchmarking,” he said. “Many of our peers found that our program wasn’t as robust as far as the support and staffing was concerned. So, an initiative was led to expand multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion here at the institution in order to address some of these gaps.”
While the addition of the new positions gives OMA a chance to expand its outreach for this school year, some added positions — such as coordinators for gender equity and APIDA/MENA, as well as the assistant director for a persistence of diverse populations — are temporary. These will be evaluated at the end of the school year to determine whether they are useful enough to students to be renewed.
Beyond the new positions, Jones said other changes are occurring at OMA, including partnerships and student-oriented additions.
“We’re also developing partnerships with academic programs that will expand how we interact with the university and academic life, and giving resources to our students to connect with faculty on different levels,” he said.
“For example, we have partnerships with the Institute for Black Life, the Institute for Students of Latin American and Caribbean Descent, and we’re trying to develop one with Women’s and Gender Studies as well as Religious and Spiritual life.”
Jones also said the office created a lounge in the Marshall Student Center to support students and give them a space to interact with faculty and their peers.
“We also, in collaboration with Institute on Black Life and Student Success, created a resource lounge for students on the third pillar that focuses on our Black student success initiatives, which will open up a brand new spa,” Jones said.
“It used to be the old study abroad space on the third floor, so we’re currently remodeling and creating this student support resource lounge as a mentoring space, [and] a space for small gatherings and get-togethers with faculty and students and a place where students can just go and hang out.”
Despite budget cuts made over the past year, Jones said it was impressive that USF, SG and Student Success recognized the importance of the changes being made.
“The changes can’t wait, they can’t be put to the side and that is really exciting,” he said. “We always talk about investing, and putting money where our mouth is to move us upon a real continuum of change and support and growth, and I believe this is one of those situations.”