Make It Better

The result of protests in support of historically marginalized groups on campus marks 20 years of improving lives.

Make It Better
Student Resource Center staff. A University restructuring eliminated the center, sparking protests that led to the creation of the Office of Multicultural Learning. OML celebrates 20 years of helping students during the 2019-2020 academic year. / Image by Charles Barry

The legacy of 1999 lives on at Santa Clara. No, not in the form of impeachment talk or Britney Spears-fandom. Rather in a campus office that helps support underrepresented students across campus.

The Office for Multicultural Learning was born that year out of student protest. The University had dismantled the Student Resource Center, as well as other organizations in a restructure. Students of color and other marginalized and historically oppressed scholars felt further marginalized.

By June 2 of that year, students at Santa Clara rallied, donning yellow armbands and black shirts. They were protesting for greater support of disabled, queer, and international students, as well as religious minorities and women.

The student protestors presented three demands to further justice and inclusion at Santa Clara: The Multicultural Center would find its exclusive home in the Shapell Lounge. The Ethnic Studies Program would be legitimized as its own Department. And, the University would once again include all functions and positions previously carried about by the Student Resource Center, committed to the needs of minority students.

The University accepted. Thus, the Center for Multicultural Learning (CML) was born on April 20, 2000, later becoming the Office for Multicultural Learning (OML).

“The entire project was called ‘building partnerships for diversity,’ say original associate director Vid Raatior.“That was the vision. The idea, as I understood it, was that this campus needed to build a structure where every minority student or underrepresented student who steps on this campus can get the support they need from the departments that are supposed to serve them.”

This academic school year marks twenty years since this integral staple of inclusive education came to be. The Ethnic Studies program became a companion major in 2009-2010 academic year and became a stand alone major in 2016-2017 with the department being approved in June 2016.

To celebrate its anniversary, the OML has crafted a new mission statement and will host commemorative events this year, in addition to continuing their efforts to expand multicultural collaboration across campus.

On November 7, one such celebration brought decades of people and their energy together. Six members of the original staff spoke on a panel, sharing their experiences from back in the day and reflecting on what it means to see the OML standing today. The six were Gerdenio (Sonny) Manuel, S.J., first director of the CML, Latanya (LT) Hilton’96 MBA ’04, who at the time worked in admissions, Pancho Jimenez ’93of the Art and Art History Department, original associate director Vid Raatioras well as student staff Miguel Legarreta ’03 and Celina Uong ’04.

The work they began all those years ago ago reflects this vision to connect a campus across its many voices, experiences and struggles, and this work remains essential. Students at Santa Clara continue to face similar struggles as those people saw two decades ago. A Campus Climate Survey conducted in 2018 revealed that faculty and students on campus continue to face exclusionary, intimidating, offensive or hostile conduct based on ethnicity, gender, and racial identity. Sexual misconduct and the support of survivors remains a prioritized issue. Women continue to report greater discomfort on campus and in the classroom than men.

And what happens on campus also continues to reflect broader social issues impacting the community and nation around us. Students at Santa Clara are not immune to the macro perils that threaten their wellbeing and freedom. The OML plays an integral role in addressing social harms and supporting vulnerable student populations.

Raatior speaks on the continual endeavor of the OML to counter oppression and make Santa Clara more just. “The heart of that work was to work with the students that served alongside us. Especially in today’s reality, that we can proudly say that they were undocumented students at the time. Yes, we couldn’t say that, talk about those things,” he adds. “But it’s important to realize that that’s the work that Sonny and others in the Jesuits and in this institution were committed to. Especially now as we continue to struggle into this political world. So I’m just very inspired and happy,” he says.

Whether it be undocumented students or the many others who face, the OML strives to serve them. Their new mission statement was crafted in collaboration by current OML Director Dr. Joanna Thompson, Assistant Director Bernell Nevil, Office Manager Pauline Nguyen, Assistant Dean in the Office of Student Life Dr. Byron Howlett, and graduate student summer intern Steffi Huynh.

It reads: “As a part of the Office of Student Life, the Office for Multicultural Learning is committed to promoting social justice, building bridges across diverse communities, and celebrating differences of students at Santa Clara University. In addition, we advocate for historically underrepresented populations and educate the whole person within the context of Jesuit values.”

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