Less than one month into her new job as director of Multicultural Student Affairs, Nashia Whittenburg already has big ideas.
She has proposed a new living and learning village for women of color on campus. She would like to start a celebration of Gaelic heritage in March. She wants to implement programs to retain Latina and African-American students.
“There’s so much opportunity” to advance multiculturalism at NC State, says Whittenburg, who became director July 10. “That’s the reason why I’m very excited about the position, about being here. It’s just an exciting time. You can feel it in the air.”
It Takes a Village
The Multicultural Student Affairs office looks for ways to educate about and represent various cultures within the student body. It also tries to retain underrepresented students and help them graduate. Students who don’t feel comfortable on campus are more likely to leave, Whittenburg says, so it’s important for NC State to show them support. Her idea for a new living and learning village works toward that goal.
Currently there are 16 villages, such as the Black Male Initiative and Women of Welch, that cater to students with special interests or of particular demographics. Whittenburg plans to submit a proposal to housing by next February to see if a village specifically for women of color is feasible for 2018. She envisions a space where students can be comfortable, share experiences and help one another.
“The point and purpose is if you are a Latina and you are an engineering major, with a very specific specialization, you may not ever see anybody who looks like you,” Whittenburg says. “But when you come home, here is your opportunity to get some support and to deal with some of the microaggressions you might have had to deal with throughout your entire day when you’ve been at class.”
Whittenburg also has short-term goals, such as planning to welcome students back to campus later this month. MSA staff will be in as many places as possible to greet as many students as they can. The director will be at the Symposium for Multicultural Scholars that begins Aug. 9 to discuss multiculturalism on campus. Topics this year include race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity and sexuality. Attendees will also discuss mental health, the importance of community and ways to create a supportive environment.
Representation According to Need
Whittenburg also wants to institute two national programs to help retain students: Student African American Sisterhood and Mana, an organization that represents Latinas. It’s a move in line with her office’s emphasis on African-American, Latino and Native American students. However, Whittenburg wants to expand MSA’s role beyond that.
“People have a certain linear mindset, and they automatically check themselves out because maybe the office didn’t historically relate to that particular culture or ethnicity. That’s going to be something that I’m passionate about changing,” she says.
Whittenburg intends to keep MSA’s old programs, such as Latino Heritage Month and Native American Heritage Month, and implement new ones. A celebration of Gaelic cultures was a no-brainer considering where she used to work – Savannah, Georgia, home to one of the largest Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in the world.
Representation “goes as far as what student needs are,” Whittenburg says. If there is demand for a program, she will try to create one, and make sure it is meaningful. Latino Heritage Month, for example, is more than just a celebration of that culture; it honors the culture’s impact on American and global society.
“It’s not just programming for the sake of having a program,” Whittenburg says. “What is the point and purpose of meeting the cultural needs of our students? Are we creating a sense of inclusion for our underrepresented students and the opportunity for non-underrepresented students to understand that?”
‘Roll Up Your Sleeves’
The nature of her work means Whittenburg engages with other offices around campus, such as the GLBT Center. The latter put her in touch with a poet/artist for Native American Heritage Month. It is “an absolutely amazing opportunity to collaborate,” she says.
She is also working with diversity coordinators in individual colleges and hopes to include them more in next year’s multicultural symposium for students. There are plenty of opportunities for colleges to support multiculturalism, she says, such as taking diversity into account when hiring or developing curricula.
Whittenburg encourages faculty and staff to contribute ideas for representation. They have expertise she lacks, and she’s keen to take advantage of that. “Get in, roll up your sleeves, get ready to do the work,” she says.