For ten years, Multicultural Affairs (OMA) in Undergraduate Student Life has promoted an inclusive University climate and served as an educational resource to help prepare students to succeed in a heterogeneous and ever-changing society. OMA was founded in 2004 to respond to the needs of Columbia’s diverse undergraduate student body, and has since provided a supportive environment for intercultural communication, advocacy, critical intellectual inquiry, diversity education and training, leadership development and training, mentoring and social justice and inter/intra-cultural programming.
OMA runs the Intercultural Resource Center and its residential component, Intercultural House, as well as International at Columbia, LGBTQA at Columbia, and numerous other programs and services that seek to strengthen and enhance the diverse undergraduate community. OMA also advises more than 40 cultural and identity-based student organizations; co-sponsors community-based graduation receptions such as Lavender Graduation, for LGBTQ and allied students; Latino(a) Graduation; Black Graduation; Native Graduation; and Asian Graduation; and recognizes the outstanding commitment to diversity, social justice and multiculturalism that graduating students have made while at Columbia.
In honor of OMA’s first decade, current and former students reflect on the impact of the office on their time at Columbia.
“My experiences leading and participating in various Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) sponsored activities and organizations have had a profound impact on my development as a leader. [Now, a]s a graduate student in philosophy in a department facing significant challenges with respect to creating a healthy climate for women, I exercise the leadership skills I learned through the OMA to be an effective committee member and a strong advocate for the interests of the other graduate students in my department, particularly female students. …
One way in which I developed as a leader through OMA sponsored activities is as a resident of the Intercultural House (ICH). Residents of the ICH come from different ethnic, class, and social backgrounds, but each is committed to promoting social justice. The value of such a living and learning community cannot be overstated. There I learned how to resolve conflict through open and effective communication, especially with respect to acknowledging, appreciating, and working through the challenges that inevitably emerge when we try to understand the needs of others and balance them against our own.”
-- A. Kelley CC’09
“When I arrived at Columbia my freshman year, everyone told me that this was a place where I would ‘find my people,’ a place that would be safe for me. Yet initially, I struggled to find a community that felt like my community. I worried that, after coming out as transgender and beginning hormone replacement therapy midway through my first year, Columbia wouldn’t become the progressive haven I’d dreamed about while flipping through the glossy Admissions booklets back home in Michigan.
My involvement with Under1Roof and the OMA my sophomore year provided the first space I could really call home. I felt better connected with the queer and trans community on campus, I found a wonderful circle of friends, and I felt safe and supported in exploring my various identities while still challenged to push back on certain toxic ideas that I had internalized over the years. …
Finally, the OMA has also given me room to mess up. To make mistakes with the understanding that I will grow from them, to feel validated in myself while knowing I can do better. That knowledge—I can do better—is one of the most powerful things to have.”
-- A. Pines CC’16
“My first interaction with the OMA was in my first few weeks of school as a ‘mentee’ with the Columbia Mentoring Initiative-Latino Family Tree. Since my introduction to the [OMA] office occurred so early on in my Columbia experience, it is impossible to describe my time at this school without mentioning the importance of the people, support, and programming that the Office of Multicultural Affairs has provided me. The Columbia Mentoring Initiative (CMI) has been an integral part of my personal and academic experience on this campus. In my first year, the program helped me to adjust to my new surroundings, introduced me to upperclassmen Latin@s who became mentors, and supported me during the times that I felt overwhelmed.
Moreover, though the office provided official support for the program, I appreciated the fact that CMI was student run and allowed for overlap with other student organizations. In this way, the OMA not only acted as a branch of the administration, but also operated as a product of the hard work of students and staff that integrate its mission into the greater community on a daily basis. After this initial experience, I continued as a mentor and later co-chair of the program as it continued to expand and help younger generations of ‘Columbians’ find their niche on this campus. Without the support of this office, and the spaces that it helps to create, my ‘Columbia Experience’ would not have been the same.”
-- A. Lozano CC’15
“Being a first-generation student attending a predominantly white institution, I felt a bit out of place during my first year at Columbia University. I can honestly say that the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) provided a sense of family, comfort, and social justice advocacy that helped me to mature as a student, person, and social justice leader on campus.
I remember when I started my tenure as Co-President as the Haitian Students Association during my sophomore year, and I was a bit timid because I really did not have a lot of leadership roles in other organizations on campus. However, there were [OMA administrators] who were there to give me guidance, and support for HSA.
Currently, I am an educator in the Baltimore City Public Schools system, and student at Johns Hopkins School of Education through Teach for America. The importance of social justice advocacy, race conscious[ness], and equality were all qualities that I gained through my coursework and also pillars in the organizations that I was a part through the OMA. …
My experience with the Black History Month Committee was the epitome of what OMA meant to me. We were all able to come in as African-American leaders on campus, put aside our egos, and created a month that was filled with such justice, advocacy, and cultural enriching events that were not typical.”
-- W. Jean-Jacques CC’14