Although many students may not feel an immediate connection to different cultures, Marquette attempts to bring students from a variety of backgrounds together through monthly celebrations.
The Multicultural Center, in collaboration with the Office of International Programs, plans six month-long celebrations each year. April is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and events include student panels and culinary demonstrations.
Other months celebrate the heritage of Latinos, Arabs, Native Americans, Pan-Africans and women.
Colleen Rooney, program assistant for intercultural programs, said cultural events are easier to plan when there is student initiative behind them. The Multicultural Center provides a space where the leaders of Marquette’s cultural organizations can meet together to share ideas and collaborate on programs and events, she said.
Sometimes, the only role the OIP plays in planning events is providing funds and assisting with behind-the-scenes work. Other times, Rooney said, its role is to plan educational events that aren’t student-led but still fit in the realm of intercultural events.
Rooney said programs planned by OIP attempt to build leadership, serve under-represented populations and create cultural competence.
Turqoise Welch, OIP special projects coordinator, said one of the most difficult things about planning events is finding ways to attract students of different backgrounds.
“Just because we’re hosting an Asian cultural panel does not mean that if you are a biracial student that has no Asian heritage, you shouldn’t or can’t attend,” Welch said.
According to Rooney, students who attend programs about different cultures open their minds to change. She said it’s important to be patient with ignorance and to accept that people don’t know everything about each other.
“Through these events, you begin to recognize your similarities,” Rooney said. “When you focus on the similarities, the differences don’t seem to matter as much.”
Welch said celebrating an individual student’s culture helps build self-pride. Engaging in events and programs surrounding other cultures helps students become more aware, more accepting and less afraid of the unknown, she said.
Rooney said she believes these events are important to multicultural students on campus because “it helps when you see someone who looks like you.” When students have a space where they can feel comfortable with others who know their culture, they feel more welcome, Rooney said.
“If you don’t know that other people are out there, you will think you’re alone,” she said.
Rhaoda Thao is a Hmong student who will represent her culture today at the “Asia: Beyond the Great Wall” forum in the Alumni Memorial Union, Room 252 at 6 p.m. Thao said the most difficult thing about transitioning from her diverse high school to Marquette’s campus was feeling like she did not belong.
Thao, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said she feels diversity lacking at Marquette.
“Looking around on campus, it’s hard for me to find anyone that’s Hmong or even Asian on a given day,” Thao said.
She said she thinks devoting a day or a month to celebrating heritage is a good way to teach students about diversity on campus.