October 2, 2009
The end of summer marked the end of training for the ambassadors in Calvin's Multicultural Student Development Office (MSDO) Ambassadors Mentorship Program. Nine Calvin students were trained as "ambassadors" —students who foster growth in the college’s multicultural community and who combat racism day-to-day on Calvin's campus.
"They are built-in mentors for students who want mentorship,” said Ralph Johnson, MSDO program coordinator. “The program is going to give multiracial students opportunities to express ideas, develop leadership and then make it happen.”
Students take point
The ambassador program, unlike previous anti-racism programming on campus, will be initiated and led primarily by students themselves. Previous programs have employed students in leadership roles, but the ambassador program actually gives students the opportunity to lead their own ideas from start to finish.
Though Johnson initiated the MSDO's first two events of the semester—a Michael Jackson tribute dance and a poetry jam—the ambassadors will organize the majority of the remaining events.
"I'm looking forward to actually leading, and getting to know the other students," said Byron Doss, one of two senior ambassadors. He and his colleagues will serve as tour guides, event planners, mentors and friends to students on campus who have a hard time finding a place to fit in.
At a school with a large majority white students, it is easy for minority students to feel disconnected from their peers, Doss said: "The [goal of the] ambassador program is to have some students have another connection to campus," he said, "not only to relate, but to invite them to stuff."
Doss looks forward to helping students of color adjust to life at Calvin:
"When a student chooses the place where they want their education, in most cases they are aware that there will be changes, but in some cases don't know the extent of those changes. For minority students and students from outside of the Reformed faith,” he said, “the change in culture from their own to the one Calvin has is overwhelming for many.”
The overall goal of the ambassador program is not to build a separate multi-racial community at Calvin, but rather build a community within the Calvin community, Johnson said: "You've got the Calvin community, which is all of us—then you've got some separate communities in there." The program was originally founded through a grant from the DaimlerChrysler Minority Retention Award program in 2007. It is designed to draw in students of color and give them a safe place or outlet on campus.
"That's the goal: retention of students of color," said Johnson. Though the goal is to draw in a specific crowd, all students are welcome and invited to all events held by the MSDO. "We just sort of gear them towards and market our events to the students of color on campus, but of course everybody's invited," he said.
The ambassador program focuses less on educating the greater Calvin community about racism than previous anti-racism efforts, and it will take a different approach to helping the multiracial community at Calvin. Doss explained that the ambassador program will certainly not be the end-all of racism at Calvin: "The program itself will be a good basis for starting."
~ Cloud Cray, communications and marketing