MLI: The Ongoing Diversity Discussion

Cultural Affairs Senator Ryan Jackson discusses MLI amd the importance of diversity on campus

February 24, 2016

Almost two years ago, when Journalism/Communications major Ryan Jackson first stepped on the campus of Pierce College, he attended class but that first quarter, he just observed student life.  

Jackson just was not ready to get involved.  He did make observations on his education.   “We all share Pierce College.”  With this in mind, he applied and became a Senator with PC Student Life.

Jackson currently leads the Multicultural Leadership Institute or MLI.  According to the Director of Student Life Cameron Cox, “MLI attempts in our workshops for students to consider a Global Worldview.”  He said, “We attempt to provide students a cultural lens.”

A cultural lens is a term for viewing things from the perspective of a diverse culture.   

Culture defined as the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge from past to current and future generations.  

Mirna Ali, a premed major has an Ethiopian heritage.  She said “In defining culture, standards are learned at a young age.  A person then evolves and grows.”  

Herve Okita, who is from Africa with his first language being French, is an international student and explains multiculturalism this way: “Culture is vast.  One needs to talk specifics.”   

The U.S. Census Bureau identifies the major races in this country as white, black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.  People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.

With more than 6,000 students attending Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom each race is represented.  Each brings their own culture with them to the classroom.  

Jackson says: “You can view your education by reviewing core values and the system of what we call Pierce College.  The system can be seen as how one interprets the culture around us as we all step on campus.”

In 2007, Pierce College staff recognized the growing diversity and the Multicultural Leadership Institute or MLI was begun.  

Its main goals are to provide opportunities to develop personally by examining one's own stereotypes, communication barriers and knowledge about other cultures.  

Secondly, networking connections can be established thru the monthly workshops to build alliances with Pierce College faculty, staff, administrators and student leaders.  Cox said, “MLI attempts in our student session for participants to consider a global worldview.”

For example, on any given day just walking into the Cascade Building cafeteria many different languages can be heard.  A conversation at one table can be in Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, Tagalog and of course English.  

Jackson, who leads the monthly multicultural workshops said, “While MLI give us opportunities to develop personally by examining one's own stereotypes, communication barriers and knowledge about other cultures there is more to this than language, or food or specific regional arts.”

The question was then put to him, ‘If multiculturalism is a global concept and one can see so much diversity on campus, do you find interaction between cultures?’   

Jackson paused and then said,  “Sometimes there is a gap between us as a diversity American society and the international students.  They come from India or Korea or Africa.  Their first language is not English and their governments are not always the democracy we know in the United States, nor are their customs like ours.”  

Jackson said this means that even though the cafeteria may seem diverse, people tend to just stick together and not take time to see or be aware of those around them.  

“America has so many freedoms as a people, in my African culture we do not.  Yet, I my observation is that Americans do not always understand or appreciate the freedoms they have.  This is how our cultures differ.”  Henve Okita agrees.

Krutarth Panchail who is from India and studying computer science said coming to Pierce College has given him his first experience in America.

“Before I came to the USA, my only reference for this country was from the movies.”  He laughs and said, “When I came to Lakewood, I could not believe I was here! ..but where were all the tall buildings?”  

Krutarth did see them in Seattle though, and while sometimes while locals complain about the traffic, he said, “I would like to take some of American friends to say Mumbai, then they would really see traffic jams and how people react!”

For Herve who is from Africa, when describing his initial impressions of Americans, he used the term respect. “When I first began shopping for groceries here, what surprised me the most, was that people actually stood in lines.  In my country, this does not always occur.”  

More importantly what he is grateful for most is this: “In terms of education, I appreciate Pierce College because you get what you earn. In the Congo, education can be bought.   If one’s family has money, one can bribe your way to a degree.  This means if you are smart and poor, you may not get the education you deserve. This is the way that culture works.”

Student Life director Cameron Cox admits, “The term culture, though can be misleading.” He acknowledges, “Culture is not necessarily always just about race.”   

Ryan Jackson concluded, “Yet, if a student feels their culture is not represented at Pierce College, please let us know. You can find us at the Student Life Center next to the café in the Cascade Building, we want you voice to heard.  This is the goal of our Multicultural Leadership Institute.”

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