Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Discussion Highlights Hispanic Heritage, Multicultural Awareness

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BIG RAPIDS – Ferris State University’s Hispanic population is still small, but thanks to outreach efforts has experienced growth during the last three years.

In Fall 2007, the number of Hispanic students at Ferris was 177. Two years later that number is up to 296 – a benefit of university diversity efforts. Since mid-September, Ferris has been celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month through activities designed to expose the campus community to Hispanic culture. As part of the month-long event, Office of Multicultural Student Services Assistant Director Michael Wade moderated a panel discussion: “Hispanics in America.”

“In the real world, we have to work to break down barriers that divide us and not create barriers,” said Ana Davila-Howard, a Spanish professor who has been working at Ferris since 1993, and who was one of four participants on the panel discussion in the Founders Room of the Rankin Student Center. “I always challenge students to not be afraid of different cultures and to reach out to other cultures so we can all get to know each other better.

“We all have to become more open-minded to other cultures and that is why I am constantly encouraging my students not to be afraid of what they don’t know.”

As part of the discussion, Wade used a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted statistics and facts about Hispanic populations in the United States, in general, and at Ferris, in specific. The slides introduced information about education, illegal immigration, the economic impact of undocumented immigrants, assimilation into U.S. culture, family life, the challenges of going to college and more during the hour-long event.

“We really appreciate how receptive students are to talking about diverse cultures and to learning about diverse cultures,” Wade said of Hispanic Heritage Month, which has featured authentic Latin food, Latin dancing, a theatre production, information and more. “The whole month of activities has been well attended and we appreciate the hard work so many people have put in to make these activities such a great success. The events have been well attended by members of the community, as well as by faculty, staff and students.”

In closing comments, panelists offered their thoughts about the growing population of Hispanics at Ferris and bridging gaps between the different cultures on campus.

“My advice to people would be to go to Hispanic events and to in general go to different cultural events and open your mind to getting to know other people,” said Nereida Alvarado, a third-year Ferris student from Grand Rapids. “We all have to be willing to mingle and associate with people of different cultures so we can all come together.”

Arita Franchi, a fourth-year student from Grand Rapids, emphasized the importance of “being open-minded to all cultures.”

With the Office of Multicultural Student Services and the Diversity and Inclusion Office leading the way, Ferris has continued to strengthen the atmosphere of diversity at Ferris. Isabel Isabel, a senior student from Grand Rapids, sees diversity as something everyone must face up to in the years to come.

“We’re all going to have to deal with each other,” Isabel said. “It’s time we all educated ourselves and came together to make us all stronger.”

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