With Hispanic Heritage Month in full swing, Eva Martinez Powless, director of the Office of Intercultural Engagement, sat down with Alan Chavoya, graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, for a glimpse at the Center for Intercultural Engagement.
Alan Chavoya: Give us a brief history of the CIE.
Eva Martinez Powless: The center has been around for about 45 years. Originally named the Multi-Cultural Center, the center was formed in 1972 after a group called Students of Color, composed primarily of African-American, Native American and Latinx students, protested on Wisconsin Avenue because Marquette was not providing them with the necessary support systems that students of color needed to succeed in the university. The center was formed and continues to work as a hub for many diverse student populations — students of color, first-generation students, Dreamers, commuters, students of all socio-economic classes, etc. We work to create a community of scholars who are students for and with others.
AC: Who are the people involved in the CIE?
EMP: There’s me, the first director of the Office of Intercultural Engagement, which oversees the LGBTQ+ Resource Center as well as the CIE. There is an assistant director of intercultural engagement for African-American student services; our LGBTQ+ program and services coordinator, Enrique Tejada; and our graduate assistant, DeJuan Washington. Coming this spring we will have another graduate assistant who will focus on the Latinx and undocumented student population.
AC: Which student organizations do you work closely with and which student organizations use the CIE space?
EMP: We recognized the need for collaboration among different student groups representing diverse communities on campus. Therefore, we have the Multicultural Student Council. The council is composed of most cultural student organizations, including the identity-based Greek fraternities and sororities, Empowerment, Black Student Council, African Student Association, Latin American Student Organization, Caribbean Student Organization, HPGM student chapter, Bayanihan Student Organization, Native American Student Association, Pacific Islander Student Organization, and others. Many of these groups, including some not part of the council, such as the First-Generation Student Organization, use the CIE on any given day to conduct their meetings, attend our events, study, and socialize. Aside from providing a safe space for historically underrepresented students, the CIE is open to all students who wish to engage in social justice dialogue and intercultural education. The lounge space has a fridge, computers, and TV accessible to all students.
AC: Tell us about the CIE’s central goals.
EMP: Our overall mission is best summed up by the following three tenets: 1. Enhancing the climate for diversity and inclusion on campus. We do this through intersectional and intercultural programming, which includes not just the Marquette community, but also the Milwaukee community. 2. Influencing student success. By meeting with students one-on-one and offering group support, we can contribute to improving graduation and retention rates of students of color. 3. Promoting intercultural competency. We work with other departments upon request to do training and education for their units. We are involved in orientation and SPARK, as well as Residence Life when we train RAs.
AC: How do you see the CIE carrying out the mission of Marquette?
EMP: Providing services to underrepresented communities is very Catholic and Jesuit. For instance, we have a group called Latinas Unidas because we know that Latinas have been underrepresented throughout our history, and they are also the group that makes the least in the labor force. We are at the bottom of the stratification system. This group’s emphasis is on supporting Latinas on campus, highlighting overall commitment to social justice, which, again, is fundamental to our Catholic, Jesuit identity. Marquette’s mission and guiding values is embedded in our daily work with students and throughout our programming. We demonstrate our commitment to our Jesuit mission by directly impacting the student experience for diverse student populations and providing student development opportunities such as Malkia Circle, Dreamers Discussion Group, Men2Men, and so much more. In addition, our annual diversity and inclusion programming on average reaches an audience of 5,700 participants composed of students, faculty, staff, and community members.
AC: What are some of the ways you have seen the CIE impact the MU experience for students?
EMP: For the past three years, we have been tracking CIE students’ graduation rates. More than 200 students, now alumni, have benefited from services provided by the Center for Intercultural Engagement. Every year we host the Unity Graduation to celebrate first generation and diverse student success. In exit interviews, students consistently state that the CIE was the best part of their Marquette experience, and that it felt like a home away from home during their time at Marquette. Through our commitment to social justice, we work in collaboration with many partners and departments to influence graduation rates for historically underrepresented students.
AC: Tell us about programming for this upcoming year.
EMP: We are hoping to expand our partnerships and draw special attention to notions of interculturality and intersectionality. Every year we collaborate with over 70 student organizations, community organizations, and departments. We want to continue working together with our campus community to expand key opportunities for engagement and dialogue. With the new addition of our Asst. Director of Intercultural Engagement for African American Student Services, we will be in a better position to work collaboratively across campus to place a greater focus on our Black/African American students. Our goal is to be part of campus initiatives focused on the success of all students, but in particular the success of historically underrepresented students. Our programming begins in September with Latinx Heritage Month; then, October with LGBTQ+ Heritage Month and November with Native American Heritage Month. January features MLK days of engagement, February is dedicated to Black History Month, Women’s History Month is in March, and Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is in April.
AC: What are some of the ways you’d like to see the CIE change/grow?
EMP: We would like to expand our partnerships and contribute to a climate for diversity, inclusion, and equity. With the support of Dr. Joya Crear, Assistant Vice President of Students Affairs, and Dr. Xavier Cole, VP of Student Affairs, the Office of Intercultural Engagement is looking to work more efficiently and to streamline collaborations across campus for academic year 2018-2019 and beyond.
This interview has been edited for space and clarity.