“Celebration” by Kool & The Gang resonated throughout the new College of the Canyons Intercultural Center, where many gathered for its grand opening and ribbon cutting on Wednesday.
According to the pamphlet provided by the center, the ICC “is a centralized location for Inclusive, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Anti-Racism (IDEAA) campus-wide efforts.” In addition, the center encourages a “welcoming, safe and supportive learning environment that builds an inclusive community and values diversity.”
The 11,644-square-foot space is located on the ground floor of Bonelli Hall, and includes couches, tables, multicultural books, multiple projectors, games, such as Jenga, and colorful flags that resemble the center’s mission: gathering people of all nationalities into a welcoming environment.
Diane Fiero, deputy chancellor and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the college, discussed the process and incentive for the center:
“The idea came up in ’17, ’18, so it’s been in the works for a while. We had our virtual center open up during COVID in November of 2020, and then we had an interim center while this center was being built. Now our permanent center is finally open, so we’re very excited about it,” Fiero said. “We’re very excited to provide a space where all cultures can come together and learn about each other. Dolores Huerta [will be here] next week, and we already have about 185 people coming to see her.”
The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays. Run by Flavio Medina-Martin, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Brendon Ashford, DEI assistant, and Ciara Asberry, DEI college assistant, all three discussed the importance of diversity in a college setting.
In a room directly next to the center are various colorful cards placed on a conference table. Medina-Martin calls it the Power Thought Activity Game.
“I’m a doctoral student; I actually got this [game] from one of my professors who practiced with us in class. [At the time,] I was in a space where I really was trying to find who I was, both professionally and personally,” Medina-Martin said.
The game entails picking up a random card, and on the backside is a proverb. The students are then asked to share why they relate with the statement.
“I thought this is an amazing tool that really grounds the work that we do. It’s not just about learning who we are, but what are we doing with it? How can I fit in in all of these spaces, and how do I challenge myself to learn more about others?” Medina-Martin said. “That’s the question that I think as professionals, we need to constantly ask ourselves, and many of us don’t.”
Medina-Martin believes that by allowing open conversation and vulnerability, it will help to find a common denominator and better resources for students on campus.
Ashford believes in the power of communication and vulnerability, but that people have often shared common experiences in different ways: “We’re really all the same — we all want the same thing.”
In finding ways to make his students feel included, he starts with himself and the actions he commits to and conveys.
“I see [this student] every day and she’s deaf. The other day, she waved at me and said something where one of the other students interpreted it,” Ashford said. “I said, ‘You know what, the least I can do is hop on YouTube, and I watched like three videos [to learn how to sign] ‘Hey, how are you? How’s your day going?’”
Asberry concurs with her colleagues’ statements, while reflecting on why DEI work is important to her.
“I think for me, when it comes to this work, it’s more than just that, right? When we think about cultures, what is that? It’s not just, ‘Hey, you’re from here, you’re from there,’” Asberry said. It’s the food you eat and the legacy behind it, the history behind the clothes and the reasons for it. And I think once you start to get into those discussions and you get to the root of it, right, then that is what DEI work is for me — an honest conversation.”
Students Carmen Recinos and Ashley Kazar, who are also employees on campus, reflected on the center and their excitement for the future.
“I’m honestly really excited that this has been made. [Whenever] I come down here everybody’s really welcoming,” Recinos said. “It’s a really comfortable place to be [since] it’s been open a few times.”
“I think it’s really cool. We have our own space on campus and it’s very safe and inviting,” Kazar said. “I remember we gave a bunch of tours and [learned about] information on [the center] that I think was very important for people who may not be part of minority groups, like gay people, to know,” Kazar said.
The events scheduled for September include:
- Undocumented Resource Center/ICC Social mixer, Thursday at 2 p.m.
- Cafecito con Conchas, Sept. 18 at 10 a.m.
- A Lifelong Activist: Delores Huerta, Sept. 19 at 2 p.m.
- Native American Student Support and Success Program (NASSSP) Film Screening, Sept. 21 at 2 p.m.
- Hispanic Heritage Identity Student Speaker Panel, Sept. 26
- NASSSP Program Orange Shirt Days, Sept. 29-Oct. 2.
- NASSSP Hart Park Pow Wow Information Table, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.