May 13, 2010
Global citizenship, a term that sits at the heart of Rollins College’s mission, is woven, by design, into all aspects of the Rollins experience. Through an internationalized curriculum, long- and short-term abroad opportunities and partnerships with foreign institutions, the goal to cultivate a worldwide mindset is achieved. And while this internationalized learning experience is certainly intended to support students beyond the campus in their future endeavors as professionals and leaders, global citizenship has rooted itself into everyday college life thanks to the efforts of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA).
It’s commonly known that OMA focuses many of its initiatives on fostering inclusion and equality for Rollins’ multicultural and minority students (roughly 23 percent of the student body). But what’s lesser known is OMA’s mission to serve Rollins’ majority student body by providing relevant global citizenship experiences that enhance students’ understanding of and comfort level with diversity.
“Opportunities to become global citizens happen on campus every day for all Rollins students,” maintained Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. “Studying Chinese culture in the classroom and traveling to China on an abroad trip are both excellent ways for students to become more worldly, but so is joining the Asian American Student Association.” There are 15 thriving student cultural organizations at Rollins College. Each one encourages the inclusion of all members of the student body.
Student cultural organizations are a pivotal component of campus socialization, responsible for several popular campus events each year including Desi’s Indian Festival of Spring (Holi) and Voices for Women’s V-Week. These student-led organizations provide countless opportunities for students to get comfortable with diversity, increase mutual understanding, and decrease prejudice and bias.
“We live in a diverse world and our workplace has become increasingly multiracial,” Rafiuddin explained. “Effective leaders must have the skills to work respectively with all people. We want to prepare our students to be able to succeed everywhere from Bedford to Bangkok.”
Meghan Thomas (Class of 2011) agrees: “The only way to prepare students for their future as global citizens is to provide exposure to people of all cultures, backgrounds and creeds,” said Thomas. Thomas is involved in everything from planning monthly drum circles to week-long diversity conferences. “Diversity is everywhere; it's so important that multiculturalism exists in college.”
Student cultural organizations aren’t merely about socializing and leisure; they also offer an important opportunity for students to develop their leadership and teamwork skills. “Our student association leaders spend a lot of time running meetings, putting on events, and learning to effectively reach across boundaries and barriers,” Rafiuddin said.
Ciera Parks (Class of 2011), current president of the Black Union Student, couldn’t agree more. “All student organizations, whether they’re defined as multicultural or not, are organizations, first and foremost,” she said. “Members and leaders learn to be efficient in running these organizations. My experiences have taught me to get out there and promote something I’m passionate about, and how to make other people care about and listen to what I am saying.”
Besides supporting student-led cultural organizations, OMA also spearheads an annual five-day Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, presents a series of speaking events titled Diversity Dialogues, coordinates an annual multicultural retreat for students and faculty, and works closely with the Office of Admissions in their endeavors related to the recruitment and retention of multicultural faculty, staff and students.
“Our perceptions of the world come through our experiences; it’s important that we give all Rollins students a diverse set of experiences that move them beyond ordinary interactions with people of their own ethnic group,” said Rafiuddin “Diversity education creates a learning environment where students can discover all the cultures that represent the United States.”
Ciera Parks believes that OMA succeeds in its mission to give all students the opportunity to experience other cultures. “It makes a really big difference to be able to interact with people that are different than you. Multicultural Affairs trains all students in openness and respect,” she said.
Meghan Thomas echoes the praise; “As a student of OMA, I have broadened my horizons to become a better, more enlightened person,” said Thomas. “I have had exposure to many different cultures and ways of life, and it’s helped me to be more open.”
OMA also participates in diversity leadership training with Rollins’ fraternities and sororities, an initiative intended to combat homophobia and heterosexism in Rollins’ fraternities and sororities. In 2007, OMA created the Rollins College Safe Zone program as a way to support and embrace Rollins’ gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer (GLBTQ) communities.
“There will always be diversity and difference; unity is only possible through understanding, accepting and valuing diversity,” asserted Rafiuddin. “Our goal is that all students graduate from Rollins with open minds and open hearts and learn truly what global citizenship is all about.”