The University of Findlay has a vibrant international student population that includes individuals from 41 countries. But many, from United States citizens to Saudi Arabians, tend to remain socially exclusive, according to Rayshawn Eastman, director of the Office of Intercultural Student Services. Given today’s global interconnectivity that influences everything from business to politics, the University hopes to encourage more multicultural interaction.
“I think one of the things that we always talk about here at the Buford Center is getting people to engage with each other from different backgrounds,” Eastman stated. He says that this is as simple as students chatting with other students from different backgrounds at an event, in class or through sports. Eastman strongly believes that intentional programs such as international game night hosted by the Office of International Education and the Buford Dialogue Series are helping to bridge the multicultural gaps and help students get to know each other on a more personal level.
The Buford Center for Diversity and Service, located at 1222 N. Cory St., has launched multiple efforts targeted at achieving greater interaction between the different cultures at UF. Cultural appreciation and exploration initiatives are helping students to feel invested in other cultures.
One of those activities took place in November. Buford Center staff members hosted a traditional Thanksgiving meal for international students and University faculty and staff. The annual event, held at the Alumni Memorial Union, typically draws many because of its excellent food and fellowship opportunities.
“Even though these students may not identify with a certain culture, we want them to have an investment in this culture and getting to know what it means,” Eastman said. This goal prompted the idea to form an advisory committee for Black History Month, with the aim of getting students from all types of backgrounds to talk about what they would like to see happen at UF for the month-long celebration in February 2016.
In the works is a Unity Dinner. The center will invite up to 150 students from different backgrounds to dine together prior to the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration on campus. Organizers hope the dinner will spark interaction and conversations that students may not otherwise have.
It’s as simple as getting students together from different backgrounds in the same room and at the same table talking to one another to bridge those multicultural gaps, Eastman explained. Stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is the first step, and the Buford Center is working hard to give students that opportunity to form new relationships.
The retention rates of multicultural students also have been something that the Buford Center has been focusing on this year. It launched the Oiler Transitions Cohort that brings first year students to campus, especially multicultural students, four days before freshman orientation.
“We’re getting them acclimated to the city of Findlay and to UF as a whole,” expressed Eastman. They meet administrators, faculty and staff from the University to get them connected to campus because then they are more likely to stay and graduate, he said. The students are encouraged to set goals and think about their time spent at UF over the coming years. The center holds monthly reunions for these students to check in and make sure they are still connecting to people on campus.
Chris Sippel, assistant dean for international, intercultural and service engagement, and Eastman have also been working with the Findlay Police Department to work on diversity training. They have gotten multiple multicultural students from UF to sit down with police officers and have conversations. They have also been working with the Black Heritage Library and Multicultural Center to help bridge multicultural gaps in the community as well as on campus.
Another program that the Buford Center implemented this spring was the Buford Dialogue Series. At these monthly discussions participants talk about different diversity and cultural experiences on campus and around the globe. On Nov. 17 the series, in collaboration with International Education Week and the International Education Office, discussed opportunities for studying abroad.
The center has also established what has come to be known as cultural tours, which allow several students to travel to places where they can learn more about a specific culture. On Nov. 21 they will be traveling to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage outside of Cleveland for students to engage with other students while learning about the Jewish culture. In September they attended a Latin American Caribbean Festival and they plan to go on a trip to an African American museum in February. This program is open to all students but spaces are limited. Contact the Buford Center for more information.
Additionally, the center recently worked with the Office of Student Activities, Commuter Services and Leadership Development on the Nov. 11 T.O.O.L. (Training Oiler Officers in Leadership) session titled, “You + Me + We: Leadership, Professionalism, Interculturalism, Where We All Connect.”
The Buford Intercultural Student Services Center was created in 2008 and dedicated in honor of Desmond V. Buford. Its purpose is to support the mission of the Office of Intercultural Student Services, which aims to foster a campus environment that acknowledges and respects the value of diversity.