One sophomore has found solace in a homey section of the Arkansas Union, where she can talk about anything and engage with other students. The Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education is a place for her to clear her mind, de-stress and reinvigorate herself as she studies.
Madison Russell often goes to the Multicultural Center to relax and study. The center is an “academic retention center that celebrates diversity and inclusion by supporting student success,” according to the sign outside the center. The purpose of the center is to create an environment where underrepresented students can go to take their mind off things, study and meet people, said Brande Flack, the director of retention programs.
Underrepresented students include those of color, first generation college students, low income students and LGBTQ students, Flack said.
“The center is a great place to reach out and get help. There are counselors to talk to all the time and upperclassmen that want the best for you,” freshman A’yanah Jefferson said.
The UofA created the center in the 1990s originally as a black students’ resource center but has become a much more inclusive and diverse outlet for all underrepresented students, Flack said.
The motto that the center prides itself upon is the words, “All are welcome,” Flack said. “We truly stand behind our motto here at the center [by] making sure all students feel welcome, encouraged, safe and valued. That’s our main goal.”
There are three purposes that the center serves, college access, retention of current students and diversity education for the campus community, Flack said.
College access, includes a team of professionals from the center that travel around Arkansas to underrepresented high schools. They seek to prepare the students there to take the ACT and teach them about the process of applying to college, Flack said.
“Our goal for the team is to be sure every student has the ability and resources to get into a college if that’s what they’re going to choose to do,” Flack said.
Multicultural Center representatives reached out to Jefferson in high school, and she became involved in one of the center’s programs called the Accelerated Student Achievement Program.
An additional resource that the center put in place to help high school students is the ACT Academy. The program is open to students from all bordering states of Arkansas and Arkansas residents. It takes place during the summer and helps provide information about the ACT, test-taking skills and answers any questions students might have about college life, Flack said.
Through the ACT Academy, senior Jasmine Blakney became involved before her freshman year of college and has stayed involved with the center ever since. She is now a mentor to the freshmen who are starting this year, she said.
“They stayed connected with me and helped me better my chances at the UofA. Once I came here, they provided me with so many opportunities. I have been a mentor to the freshmen for the past three years now,” Blakney said.
The center is also attempting to retain marginalized students at the UofA, Flack said.
“We want to make those students feel that they are valued on this campus and that they have access to the resources that they need,” Flack said.
Some of those resources include the Academic Enrichment Program, which provides one-on-one mentoring for students. This program gives students someone to talk to, and it helps supply scantrons and other study materials, Flack said.
“We think about every cent that students have to spend,” Flack said.
Other resources they offer include the Safe Zone Allies Program, which provides support for LGBTQ students, and a book program that allows the students to check out used books. The students who are involved with the center gain support from these programs but largely from simple interactions and guidance from the staff in the center, Flack said.
The Multicultural Center also reaches out to the community about the resources that the center offers and topics surrounding diversity. One way the staff at the center does this is by speaking to faculty and staff, classes such as University Perspectives and Greek Life leaders about cultural competence, diversity education, cultural appropriation and about becoming more inclusive in how the student body speaks and listens to others, Flack said.
Flack aims to make the students feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves and that it’s about building unity and a home away from home, she said.
Russell enjoys the center because “it’s like a little family,” she said.
“The people here will come and see how you’re doing and see if you’re okay,” Russell said.
Some of Russell’s friends who had been to the center inspired her to stop by, and now she uses it as a great space for relaxing and a welcoming outlet.
Flack said she is excited to see how the center will flourish and grow in the coming years. Simple exposure to people who are different and having honest and authentic conversations is the key to true inclusion, and the center is helping do just that, said Flack.