The University of Findlay intends to provide more assistance to help its widely diverse student body succeed. To further that goal, it recently hired Rayshawn Eastman to serve as intercultural student services director.
One of the initial duties expected of Eastman has been to take part in redefining his duties to better serve students, and he is tackling the task with enthusiasm.
“I’m really excited about the potential that exists here,” he said.
There are cultural gaps that can be better bridged, both on campus and in the community, Eastman thinks, and there are methods that can help students adjust to campus life, he said.
“We want this to be a place where cultural exploration happens, so we’re creating a place of differences. How do people best coexist?” he said.
Too many times, students from all backgrounds stick with their tight-knit groups that are formed during orientation sessions, or during the first few days of classes, Eastman said. Sometimes, friendship forging happens solely because of geography – people who live in the same residence hall, or are from the same city, gravitate toward each other, Eastman noted. Barriers against the unknown and the unfamiliar tend to quickly form.
International student enrollment at UF continues to increase, however. For spring 2015, international enrollment totaled 574, compared to 423 one year ago. There are 41 countries represented.
Eastman, in conjunction with staff and students, intends to launch efforts targeted at student retention and greater interaction. He also wants community involvement.
For incoming students, “we want to create a pre-orientation program to foster that transition,” said Eastman. Once they begin classes, there will be more educational outreach about tutoring and other support services. “We want to encourage students to be engaged,” he said.
Professional and personal development, in areas ranging from academics to identifying career aspirations, will also be a focus, said Eastman.
Finally, the University intends to invite community members in for a series of monthly discussions about various topics that are having an impact locally, nationally and throughout the world. “Real Talk at the Buford Center” will begin at noon on Feb. 11. Participants will discuss “Black History Month: Does it Matter for 2015?” Free pizza will be provided.
“Normally there are not too many opportunities to have such conversations,” said Eastman. “We’ll set ground rules for conversing. We want to create a safe environment for people to articulate their thoughts no matter where they are on the spectrum. I think that’s important to any college community.”
The Buford Center for Diversity and Service, located at 1222 N. Cory St., was formed in 2008 to foster a campus environment that acknowledges and respects the value of diversity. It houses the Office of Intercultural Student Services, Office of International Education and Office of Service and Community Engagement (formerly Campus Compact). All of the offices are working together to achieve these goals.
They’ve already reached out to students, too, for input. Eastman said student leaders earlier this month were invited to a session to express their opinions about proposed initiatives and how they think the Buford Center could improve its services.
“The whole idea is to not only offer students support, but to help them step out of those zones and to challenge them. It’s a fine line,” he said.
“They’re very ambitious tasks to undertake,” Eastman admitted. “It will take all of us working together to succeed.”
Eastman, who grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Lincoln Heights, isn’t actually new to UF. He started as a freshman before transferring, he said. This is where he realized there are careers that exist which help students navigate through higher education, he said. Also while here, he was president of the Black Student Union, met the woman who would become his wife, and met the men who served as his wedding groomsmen.
The University of Findlay “has definitely shaped and fostered my development,” he said.
Eastman graduated from the College of Mount Saint Joseph in Cincinnati with a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies, and from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio in 2010 with a master’s degree in student affairs and higher education. He is now pursuing a doctorate.
During his time at Miami University as the coordinator of collaborative learning initiatives, and as a learning specialist, he oversaw tutoring, supplemental instruction and the undergraduate associates program; and performed academic interventions. He had also worked there as a first-year advisor to 150 students, as a hall director, and chaired his department’s diversity committee.