The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Students react with cautious optimism to new Multicultural Life staff

By Emma Gallegos

New hires in staff for the Department of Multicultural Life have inspired a cautious optimism among students and staff about the state of multiculturalism on campus.

Tommy Lee Woon, Dean of Multicultural Life, and Sylvester Gaskin, Assistant Director of Campus Programs for Multicultural Life, started at Macalester this year.

“We’re in a hopeful place,” said Tinbete Ermyas ’08, who is involved with the Department of Multicultural Life. He said there is a lot of excitement among students to see where the department is going in the next few years.

The new hires come on the heels of some major setbacks for the Department of Multicultural Life and multiculturalism in general on campus.

Most notably, Joi Lewis resigned as Dean of Multicultural Life in February, citing low institutional support from Macalester as her reason. She had served in the post since its inception in 2002.
The Multicultural Advisory Board Report to the President and Board of Trustees detailed these concerns in 2005. In her letter, Lewis also said she hoped that the recommendations made in the 55-page report could be used to “move the college forward in meaningful ways.”

These recommendations ranged from lobbying for a more than twofold budget increase that approached the spending levels of an institution like Carleton College to conduct further inquiry into the low retention rate of faculty of color.

The Department of Multicultural Life has received a $5,000 increase in its budget for programming this year, which brought this year’s budget to $41,953.

“There was recognition that we needed more money,” Woon said.

The budget is still less than half of the $86,000 the Multicultural Advisory Board recommended. In addition, the department will not be able to add an assistant dean or other staff members, as some have wanted.

Woon said that while he would like to hire more staff, he recognizes that many other departments are understaffed.

“I’m trying to advocate for everyone in student affairs,” he said. “We have a responsibility to work together to enhance resources with raising tuition unfairly.”

Woon and Gaskin said they have been trying to address the concerns raised in the Advisory Board report as well as those expressed in other reports. In order to accomplish this they have been meeting with campus groups to better understand campus culture.

Woon said he wants to move “beyond surviving to thriving.” He is relying primarily on what he calls “appreciative inquiry.” He is trying to meet with as many students, student groups, staff and faculty as possible to ask them about what is working right, so that he can build upon those strengths.

“We don’t need failure as a motivator,” he explained. “We can use success as a motivator.”

Woon said he wants people to share what they do so that they can help each other to be successful.

Danielle Sigwalt ’08, who is involved in the cultural organizations Bridges, Queer Union and Black Liberation Affairs Committee (BLAC), said that while Woon is very optimistic and is mostly focusing on Macalester’s successes, he is not afraid to ask about what isn’t working.

Largely taking over the work of Mattie White, who left during the 2004-2005 academic year, Gaskin is also working to change campus culture surrounding multicultural issues. His work is primarily focused on the twelve cultural organizations that he advises.

He said that one of his main goals is to encourage collaboration among student organizations, and perhaps most notably, bridge the divide between multiculturalism and internationalism—a divide that strikes both newcomers as strange.

One way Gaskin is addressing this gap is by meeting weekly with cultural organization representatives.

Gaskin, who has been here since July, said that he believes there is sufficient institutional support for his goals.

“With our student leaders and Tommy, I think change will come,” Gaskin said. “When people who are tired of talking or don’t care start to get involved, then I’ll know I’m successful.”

Students and staff alike agree that meaningful change will take time.

“It’s so overwhelming,” Sigwalt said. But she said she thinks that the new hires show that the institution is going the right direction.

“Change comes slowly, but we have to be persistent,” Gaskin said.

View Comments (6)
More to Discover

Comments (6)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • A

    Austin DavidsonSep 11, 2019 at 3:25 am

    Hi, is it rite to just study from books not to pay a visit world wide web for most up-to-date updates, what you say guys?

  • M

    Michelle LawrenceSep 9, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    I’ve learned newer and more effective things from the blog post. Also a thing to I have recognized is that normally, FSBO sellers may reject you actually. Remember, they would prefer to never use your providers. But if an individual maintain a steady, professional relationship, offering support and staying in contact for about four to five weeks, you will usually be able to win a conversation. From there, a listing follows. Cheers