"Multicultural means everyone," said Bria Myers, a Central Michigan University junior studying biomedical biology.
It's a message some students are spreading.
"I feel that when most people see 'multicultural,' they think 'minority,' and those are two completely different things," said Myers, one of five students serving on the planning committee for the upcoming Multicultural Student Leadership Conference.
The challenge for the planning committee: how to create an event that feels inviting and inclusive to students from every racial, ethnic and cultural group. Committee members are not alone in considering the question.
"Maybe I can be the person who changes someone's mind for the better." — CMU sophomore Tre'Von Rucker
The Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and Multicultural Academic Student Services host dozens of events annually to highlight different cultural groups hoping to educate and engage broad audiences. While some events, such as the Celebrating Life Pow wow, have a broad appeal, others struggle to attract diverse audiences.
"I feel people miss out on learning experiences due to the misconceptions they have been brought up to know. Some people may feel out of place as they have now become the minority in the room, and they need to know that's OK, because they are embracing the experience," said Colleen Green, director of Native American Programs at CMU.
Becoming a multicultural thinker
Senior Dana Whyte noticed a trend when she worked a registration table for the conference.
"When people saw the word multicultural, many of them would say something like, 'Oh, I can't come. I'm not black,' or 'I'm not Native American,'" she said.
She and her committee co-chairs used this as an opportunity for one-on-one education about the meaning of multicultural.
Jonathan Glenn, assistant director of MASS, encourages students to use their knowledge and passion to reach peers.
The multicultural student leadership conference planning committee
"Our perception is our truth until something contradicts it," he said. "You can't control where you were born or what your parents believed, but you can choose to relearn or unlearn biases. Education is what allows you to change your thinking."
Tre'Von Rucker, a CMU sophomore serving as the finance chair for the committee, said it was empowering to use the conference as a platform to educate others about acceptance and understanding.
"Maybe I can be the person who changes someone's mind for the better," he said.
Striking a balance
It's a challenge to be sensitive to the needs of minority students without being exclusive of nonminorities, said Dyese Matthews, the conference chair. The senior fashion merchandising and design major said she wanted to foster an environment that felt supportive.
"Any and every student from CMU and surrounding universities is encouraged to attend," she said.
Days before the Saturday, Feb. 17, conference, more than 200 CMU students had registered for the event, along with students from Alma College, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.
"I hope students from all races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds attend this conference and spark meaningful conversations with people who have different outlooks on life and leadership," said Sydney Reed, a sophomore studying public relations and journalism. Reed is registration chair for this year's conference and said the conference surpassed its registration goals.
An ongoing conversation
"I feel we can continue this discussion across campus by dispelling the stereotypes, which would help to increase participation of all students, staff and faculty," Green said.
CMU hosts cultural celebrations such as Hispanic, Native American and Asian Pacific American heritage months, and students and staff work on special stand-alone events such as the Diversity and Inclusion Symposium in April. Student organizations on campus also offer special events and workshops to explore themes of unity and understanding, such as January's MLK CommUnity Peace Brunch.
"There are resources in place for student success. I hope students will use these to promote a campus that graduates educated and inclusive leaders," said Reed.