Celebrating Multiculturalism to Deliver Diverse Education Experiences
Too often, leaders view diversity initiatives as matters of checking boxes. But to truly improve the next generation, we must encourage diversity while creating space for inclusive celebration and discussion, helping to uplift, empower, and unify tomorrow’s leaders. Those of us in academic leadership need to create programs that foster multicultural discussions and interest. We need to serve as leaders in championing diverse thought and authenticity. By doing so, we better support and create opportunities for students from all backgrounds.
The importance of multiculturalism
In my role at The Los Angeles Film School, multiculturalism has an impact far beyond our student body. In conversations with each student, I—and the advisors I oversee—aim to help shape how they view themselves by instilling the importance of bringing their unique backgrounds into their educational experiences and, eventually, their careers. The entertainment industry has direct lines of connection to us all—some aimed specifically at children and young adults. By creating more diversity in this industry through our students, we affect representation in music, movies, television, and more.
Representation has a lasting impact. It can bridge cultural gaps and encourage people from different regions to learn more from one another. It helps future generations see themselves reflected in the industry. And a diversity-conscious world helps shape how we view one another and can instill a sense of self-confidence in younger generations. The celebration of multiculturalism should be viewed not as a threat to any one culture but rather as an enrichment to all.
Leading by example
As an academic advisor, I place high importance on using my position to help create and encourage a more diverse and inclusive world. I encourage my colleagues to do the same. As we shape the student experience, it is vital to consider how we help our students show up every day—not only by being true to who they are but also by being curious and open to learning more about the people next to them.
The best thing we can do is set the tone by how we lead. Ironically, I have never desired to be considered a leader. But throughout my career, from my time as an international student at Monmouth College to my current position, I have found myself thrust into one leadership role after the next.
At Monmouth, I was a young girl 5,000 miles away from my home in Senegal. I found an opportunity to give a voice to an unfamiliar nation as my fellow students inquisitively spoke with me about my culture. By championing what makes me different, I unlocked a passion for helping others do the same. Every day, I show up by being true to who I am: a naturalized American citizen with Senegalese roots and a cultural background that extends through three continents. My hope is that, by doing so, I can encourage others to follow suit. By giving students a platform to learn from and appreciate each other, we help to level the playing field for all.
Connecting across cultures
The academic advising community must rethink the way we champion diversity in our students. Instead of advocating for the breakdown of cultural silos, we should preserve and uplift what makes each student unique and foster environments where students can connect.
Cultural diversity goes beyond cohabitation, conformity, and tolerance. It requires the encouragement of intercultural dialogues that enable us to remove stigmas, judgments, and the systemic patronization of certain cultures toward others. As a product of multiculturalism, I have seen firsthand how a conscious effort to build connections between different cultures can create a stronger basis for diversity.
As advocates for students, we must design programs that not only celebrate their personal experiences but also encourage meaningful dialogue between groups. A couple of approaches to this include the following:
- Ambassadorship programs. Connecting domestic students with international students to create a support system during the transition to the new environment. For example, my institution offers an ambassadorship program where seasoned students are paired with incoming international students to help them transition into their new college life.
- Cultural celebrations. Creating opportunities for all students, international and domestic, to showcase their culture, encouraging others to learn more about the history and customs of a nation. At my institution, for instance, we raise cultural awareness by celebrating our individual cultural richness during the annual Multicultural Celebration. And each December, we highlight one international student’s accomplishments through the publication of an article in the school’s newsletter.
As leaders, it is important for us to encourage students to be true to who they are and help them authentically show up to every moment of their college experience. It is also vital that we urge other faculty and staff to do the same. This approach ensures that we can create a truly diverse community and foster a curiosity to learn and celebrate what makes each of us unique.
As the academic world evolves, it is more important than ever for administrators, teaching professionals and the advising community to rethink how we connect with students from different backgrounds. We must act as champions of multiculturalism and make a concerted effort to live as authentically as possible, leading others to do the same. By laying a foundation of integration and exchange, equal association, and respect, we can build programs that bring together students to create a truly diverse community.
Yacine Ndao, MEd, the director of student advising and the ADA coordinator at The Los Angeles Film School, is an experienced student mentor with enthusiasm to inspire students. Yacine earned a BA in speech communications from Monmouth College and a master of education in instructional technology from American InterContinental University.