Office of Multicultural Affairs Opens Dialogues and Perspectives
By Jennifer Spencer
Office of Multicultural Affairs and student group Asili with the cast of the play Platanos and Collard Greens
, a recent cultural heritage program in honor of Black History Month.
Students come to Fordham University from a wide variety of backgrounds. As they leave the families and cultures that have shaped their first 18 years and become a part of the Fordham community, they bring many different experiences to the mix.
Sofia Bautista Pertuz, assistant dean and director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said her office is on hand to help them with one thing they all have in common—a need to foster respectful relationships and understanding with people of all backgrounds.
“Students are coming from different places, and it can be scary and intimidating when you're meeting people who are different from what you are used to,” Pertuz said.
“Our office is here to help break those barriers down and create some comfort for students, and getting people thinking about how to talk to each other in ways that are not offensive, that open dialogue instead of discouraging it,” she said.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs is committed to providing unique opportunities for those dialogues to occur. With offices on both campuses, OMA both sponsors events and consults with students, faculty, and staff to help students learn about others, but also to develop a deeper sense of their own identity.
Michele Burris, associate vice president for student affairs, said that while Fordham has had a multicultural affairs office for many years, the University’s recent strategic initiative to prepare citizens for a multicultural and multinational society led to an expansion of the office.
“OMA has become a part of the fabric of the university,” Burris said. “As students head into the global society, it’s vital for us to be able to provide opportunities for open conversation between students and other folks in community so they can learn from one another and come to an appreciation and acceptance of the wide range of differences we have here at Fordham.”
OMA achieves those objectives through a variety of programs and training. Dialogue series are one of OMA’s hallmark offerings. Student leaders are trained to facilitate respectful, open dialogues about topics of their own choosing.
Upcoming dialogue topics include “Ableism and Ability: Bringing Visibility to a Sometimes Invisible World,” “Healthy Body Image,” and “Exploring Biracial and Bicultural Identities.”
Diversity Peer Leader Brandon Mogrovejo, right, with friend Isaac Chan at an event for the Muslim Student Association.
Brandon Mogrovejo, a sophomore at Fordham College at Rose Hill, is preparing to facilitate his first dialogue. Mogrovejo is a diversity peer leader, one of 18 student leaders who are trained to engage the community in dialogue about diversity and social justice.
Mogrovejo, a biology and theology major who is on the pre-med track, said he initially joined the Diversity Peer Leader program at the advice of an upperclass student who said it would be helpful on his medical school applications.
The process of thinking about multiculturalism has helped him learn some surprising things about himself and how he had viewed people around him.
“Before coming to Fordham, I was a little bit ignorant about issues around race and sexuality. Being part of the Diversity Peer Leader program, I began to see others in a different, more respectful light,” he said.
Mogrovejo is biracial; his father is from Ecuador and his mother is Italian-American. Growing up in Yorktown Heights, in Westchester County, N.Y., he never thought much about what that meant to him. At Fordham, that has changed.
“I had trouble figuring out my own identity, what to call myself, and how I look to others,” he said. “Working with OMA has really helped me begin to figure out who I am.”
In addition to the dialogues that students like Mogrovejo facilitate, OMA provides diversity and multicultural training. Since the summer of 2012, OMA has trained more than 700 student leaders and staff members.
“This means that about 10 percent of the Fordham student population who are leaders have some kind of diversity awareness and multicultural competence training through our office, which I think better equips them to have difficult conversations with the students they serve when discussing identity related and diversity issues,” Pertuz said.
Pertuz said that becoming aware and fostering dialogues is all a part of the cura personalis philosophy of Jesuit education. The diversity training students receive at Fordham will prepare them to have a great impact in their future workplaces.
“Their experience having the hard conversations is going to make them good leaders, ones who will make choices to be more inclusive, and they're going to get ahead of the curve fast,” Pertuz said.
While Mogrovejo said the listening skills and empathy he has learned as a diversity peer leader will make him a better physician in the future, he said that he’s grateful that it’s helped him grow in the Fordham ideal of being men and women for others.
“I find myself realizing there’s so much more to a situation than meets the eye,” he said. “I feel almost called to defend others when I hear extremely negative comments.”