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University News

Center Strives to Develop Leaders Who Understand and Embrace Diversity
by Gail Matsunaga


From Dateline (March 13, 2003)

Catherine Tiah and Andi Sims
Student and EMBRACE director Catherine Tiah, left, and Andi Sims, coordinator of the Multicultural Leadership Center, encourage understanding and celebration of diversity in tomorrow's leaders through the MLC's programming, resources and training.

During a recent tour of the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, attendees approached two doors - one labeled “prejudiced,” the other “non- prejudiced-and were invited to go through the door they felt best represented their views. A man stepped up to the non- prejudiced door and found he couldn't open it.

And that was the whole point of that particular exhibit: that none of us is free from biases.

Here, while the diversity of students makes for an enriching and dynamic university experience, it also can, at times, bring out preconceived notions and stereotypes toward those who may appear different. Developing leaders who will understand and embrace diversity - and thus, set an example for others to follow - is the mission of the Multicultural Leadership Center (MLC).

Among tomorrow's potential movers and shakers is senior psychology major Catherine Tiah, who, for the past three semesters, has been director of Educating Myself for Better Racial Awareness & Cultural Enrichment (EMBRACE) - a leadership certificate program offered through the center.

Students who complete EMBRACE may become facilitators. They learn about themselves, as well as about current diversity issues, and are trained to educate their peers through workshops.

“Diversity training is something everyone should have,” adds Tiah. “As long as we stick with our own groups, we won't become familiar with others, and prejudice derives from ignorance.”

The program, she explains is “very unique, because learning is mutual. We're not instructors, but basically facilitators.” And this, says Tiah, can be “very challenging. It challenges me to look at myself first, and challenges others to look at themselves.

“It has increased my self-awareness, how I view the world.”

As an international student from Singapore, Tiah had her own preconceived ideas about the United States, thanks in large part, to having access to American television. In some ways it helped her adjust to the culture, but she also was “hit by reality when I came here” and experienced discrimination.

“It surprised me, yes and no. I wanted to believe people are progressive.”

The Multicultural Leadership Center was established two years ago and provides multicultural resources and programming, as well as leadership and diversity training, such as EMBRACE.

According to Andi Sims, center coordinator, the MLC offers advisement and assistance to recognized cultural and ethnic organizations. This semester, its involvement includes Black History Month, “The Vagina Monologues,” Women's History Month and Asian-Pacific Heritage Month.

At commencement time, the center collaborates with university faculty and staff associations, and cultural and ethnic organizations to coordinate recognition ceremonies celebrating the achievements of students.

As for the future of the MLC, Sims hopes to create an EMBRACE program geared toward faculty and staff members.

For Tiah, the importance of the Multicultural Leadership Center is that “it helps students approach diversity - because we are diverse. It's a good way to prevent prejudice from turning into discrimination. What we are doing is a lot of preventive work.”

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