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Diversity Programs and Growth Lead to National Awards

Office of Multicultural Affairs Hosts Student Clubs, Workshops and Events

International students attend UMass Lowell's Office of Multicultural Affairs Meet and Greet. Photo by Katharine Webster
Isaac Ka Shing Chan, Pallav Ratra and Ioannis Smanis chat at a meet and greet held by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

By Katharine Webster

“You should watch ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld,’” Pallav Ratra, a graduate student in engineering management from Hoshiarpur, India, advised Isaac Ka Shing Chan, a computer science student who grew up in Hong Kong and wants to improve his colloquial English.

Ratra and Chan, who are part of the increasingly multicultural university community, snacked and traded tips at a “meet and greet” held by the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) at the end of the first day of classes.

UMass Lowell’s efforts to create a diverse and inclusive campus were recently honored with a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine – for the second year in a row. The HEED Awards recognize schools with an outstanding commitment to diversity of race, nationality and religion and inclusion of veterans, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community, among others. 

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney also received a Giving Back Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine earlier this year. The award recognized her leadership in creating a more diverse campus, including making global engagement and inclusivity one of the five pillars of the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan, and her efforts to involve faculty and students in the community.

The Most Diverse Class of New Students

This fall, the campus welcomed its most racially and ethnically diverse class of new students ever. All told, more than one-third of undergraduates are U.S. students of color or international students. Among graduate students, more than 40 percent are domestic students of color or international students. The university has also made gains toward its goals for diversifying faculty and staff.
UMass Lowell welcomed its most diverse freshman class ever this fall. Photo by Katharine Webster
UMass Lowell welcomed its most diverse class of new students ever this fall.

To support this growing diversity, OMA offers a range of programs and events, which kicked off with the meet and greet. The office spearheads the university’s efforts to help all students feel at home on campus and succeed in their studies, from hosting educational events to sponsoring more than 30 student clubs and associations, including the UMass Lowell Gospel Choir, the LGBTQ Resources Program and the Indian Students Association. 

In addition, the International Students and Scholars Office, or ISSO, provides support and events specifically geared to international students, including the Pair-up Program that matches new international students with a domestic buddy to help them acclimate.

New Programs, Workshops Planned

Last fall, when college campuses across the country were rocked by protests over incidents of racial and ethnic bias, OMA sponsored a series of “dialogue circles,” requested by students, to air their experiences and feelings and brainstorm ways to improve the university experience.

This month, OMA and the Working Group on Race and Ethnicity will follow up with a discussion on race and policing in the U.S. that will involve several faculty members and the police chiefs of Lowell and UMass Lowell, as well as the first campus-sponsored Rock Against Racism concert.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs also offers a wide range of workshops, including Diversity Peer Educators, which trains students who want to improve their leadership skills while supporting other students with diverse identities. This year’s theme is “ally-ship” — training students to be allies who can intervene effectively when they witness discrimination.

The “Invisible Identities” workshops, on everything from being a survivor of relationship violence to suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, are also popular. This fall’s events will focus on international students, students who experience housing and food insecurity and students who are dealing with more than one identity — for example, being multiracial and gay. 

A new OMA project, River Hawk Rising, is focused on supporting diverse first-generation college students from freshman year through graduation, says OMA Director Leslie Wong. OMA’s staff is working closely with guidance counselors from local high schools to recruit students and help prepare them for life at UMass Lowell. But it’s open to anyone who wants extra support.

“Once they’re on campus, we have a cohort program to give them individual attention and coaching, as well as workshops to help them navigate college,” says Elsie Otero, associate director. “We’ll also meet with them periodically to see how they’re doing. We want them to have us and each other as resources.”

Garcia Jean-Philippe, an honors freshman engineering major from Boston who graduated from the Academy of the Pacific Rim charter school, said he’d heard about River Hawk Rising from his high school guidance counselor and would probably sign up. 

Jean-Philippe, who competed in First Robotics throughout high school, said he came to the university for its strong engineering programs — and to experience living somewhere different.

“I’ve been in Boston my whole life. I just wanted to get out and explore a little bit,” he said. 

For a complete listing of events, visit the Multicultural Affairs website.