On October 10, 2012 University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart attended the UA Multicultural Reception at the Swede Johnson Building, home of the UA Foundation. As the musical tunes of live UA musicians filled the courtyard, conversations between the UA’s leaders and members of its myriad cultures wove through the afternoon wind.
The event, attended by over 60 members of the UA community, is now in its 3rd year of existence. For the past 2 years, the Alumni Association and the President’s Community Diversity Advisory Councils have co-sponsored the gathering.
When it began, the reception was a collaborative effort between UA President Robert Shelton, Assistant Vice President for Inclusive Excellence Raji Rhys, and the President of the UA Hispanic Alumni Club at the time, Diane Castro.
“When I became president of UAHA (University of Arizona Hispanic Alumni), I knew I wanted to bring together the board members of all the multi-cultural alumni clubs,” remembers Castro. “We shared the same Program Coordinator, but did not really interact, share best practices, etc. Thus my idea for a reception to bring us together, to and share mutual ideas and concerns.”
An Opportunity to Cultivate Conversation
Today, the gathering has grown into an opportunity for the multicultural alumni clubs and the President’s community diversity advisory councils to come together, share ideas and plant seeds for future collaborations. It also marks a particular period of importance when community groups have focused time with the President to interact, get to know one another and engage in fruitful conversation.
The crowd included a diverse group of advisory council members, representing Raytheon, Tucson Black Chamber of Commerce, Chicanos Por La Causa, Tucson Unified School District, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Tucson Chinese Cultural Center, Native Nations Institute and many more. Clubs participating included the UAHA, UA Black Alumni (UABA), the Asian American Faculty Staff and Alumni Association (AAFSAA), American Indian Alumni (AIA) and Wildcat Pride, the UA LGBTQA alumni club. Such groups promote academic excellence and provide financial and mentoring support to students, and develop connections with alumni in the professional and business communities. These groups have a long and successful history at the UA, from obtaining private financial support for student scholars in need to comprehensive retention programming to facilitate student success.
Diversity for a Better University
Overall the goal is to create and cultivate relationships that grow into real results. Some results are definitely there but tough to measure, such as increased opportunities for more students to benefit from a UA education. Others are much easier to quantify; according to Melinda Burke, in 2012, the Alumni Association awarded $1,071,988 in scholarships, and $768,332 of that amount was awarded by multicultural alumni clubs to 338 UA students.
“This is really a chance to help us all understand the unique needs and disparities in our communities,” says Rhys. Amongst many initiatives, Rhys is developing processes for ensuring that diversity issues are front and center when forming search committees and hiring key executive leadership positions. “We need to call on the diversity constituencies for recommendations on who should participate in the searches for these key roles.”
Castro’s original seed idea continues to grow and extend its branches throughout the UA.
“The reception is a great way to meet each other (kindred spirits), share ideas and concerns, know that we care for each other and our efforts, and to introduce key, critical UA issues that impact us all.”