Multicultural Programming Celebrates Fifteen Years at the University of Virginia Library
by Matt Ball and Leland Deeds
Creating an environment in which people and ideas are respected is one of the central visions of the University of Virginia Library. One expression of that vision has been the Multicultural Issues Committee (MIC), which last year celebrated its fifteenth anniversary. Created in 1990 to promote a single event, the MIC now promotes or cosponsors a dozen or so events per year with a volunteer membership numbering around twenty.
The MIC has had many permutations throughout its history, beginning as a small group of library staff brought together to generate programming or exhibits for African--American History Month. Since that time, the group has become a committee with a broader charge and a larger membership while retaining its focus on multicultural issues. Committed to promoting diversity early on, the library was one of the first units within the university to sponsor a group focused on advancing excellence through diversity and creating welcoming places to work and study.
As a continuously evolving group, the MIC has altered its organization on several occasions. Most recently, the committee has subdivided into four working groups: hiring and retention, training and orientation, publicity, and events and cultural programming.
… In an effort to ensure diversity in hiring, a member of the MIC serves on each search committee for faculty positions …
Though much of the committee's efforts have historically gone toward event programming, the MIC is very fortunate to have successfully become an important part of several internal library processes, including hiring and retention. In an effort to ensure diversity in hiring, a member of the MIC serves on each search committee for faculty positions, and for most interviews candidates have an opportunity to meet with the entire committee. These primarily informational sessions provide an excellent opportunity to inform potential new library employees about the library's commitment to cultural diversity and to ascertain what kinds of diversity initiatives the candidate's previous employers have undertaken. This visible role in hiring highlights the library's commitment to seriously addressing diversity in staffing as the library strives to make its faculty and staff mirror the broad cultural mixture that our student population represents. As a vital piece of this process, the MIC hopes to broaden its continued activity on issues of retention.
Related to the hiring and retention subgroup, the MIC members who make up the training and orientation group assist the library's staff education and development program officer, who is also an ex-officio member of the MIC. This group strives to furnish training on subjects such as managing across generational lines or performing 360 degree performance reviews as well as training on such issues as cultural competencies in the workplace. On a lighter note, members from this group coordinate the New Employee Lunch Program. Members from the MIC welcome all new employees of the library, both staff and faculty, by taking them to lunch with other staff members, ideally outside the new employee's normal working departments. This activity is not used as a recruiting tool for new MIC members Ñ it is a friendly gesture to make sure that new employees feel welcome from the beginning and to add a few more friendly faces to their early work experiences.
The publicity subgroup is responsible for the creation and dissemination of printed material, such as bookmarks, flyers, and posters, that are intended to promote the MIC itself or a particular event that the committee is sponsoring. Last summer the MIC was fortunate enough to receive some designs from an outgoing member who is a painter; these are now being incorporated into new promotional material. Using one of those designs, a new bookmark that promotes the MIC has recently replaced the committee's old brochure. Two more bookmarks are in the works.
While the first two subgroups mainly focus on library staff, the other two are aimed more broadly at all members of the university community, including students, faculty, and the general public. This is especially true for the events and cultural programming subgroup, which draws on the lion's share of the MIC's resources and is what the committee is best known for. The MIC sponsors events of all kinds, including visiting lecturers, film festivals, student forums, storytelling, live music, and book signings. Many have observed just how much this small group has accomplished in the past with a small budget but a great deal of commitment and energy. The committee has been fortunate enough to experience a substantial increase in funding over the past couple of years, however, which has allowed it to offer even more programming and cosponsorships. Members of this subgroup, with help from the rest of the committee, are responsible for event planning from beginning to end, including researching desired events, booking and scheduling, making travel and accommodation arrangements, catering, coordinating with cosponsors, working with the publicity subgroup, etc. Over the last couple of years, the MIC has sponsored or cosponsored over fifteen events. Some recent highlights include:
- In his first public appearance since arriving at U.Va., William B. Harvey, the newly-hired vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, gave a presentation entitled "Issues of Race at Predominantly White Institutions." The event filled the auditorium of the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library with a standing-room-only crowd that included students, staff, faculty, the general public, and news carriers from across Virginia. Harvey spoke very eloquently about racial hiring discrepancies at colleges and universities, drawing on years of research and quoting extensively from his many articles covering this topic. The lively Q & A after his formal presentation gave members of the audience an opportunity to examine a little more deeply some of the particular issues that affect U.Va., as well as the broader implications of racial diversity in higher education.
- With the vice provost for faculty advancement, the MIC cosponsored a presentation by Roberto Ibarra, special assistant on diversity initiatives at the University of New Mexico and author of Beyond Affirmative Action: Reframing the Context of Higher Education. In his presentation, "Diversity for the 21st Century University: Multicontextuality Theory and Practice," Ibarra discussed his theory of changing the paradigm in higher education from one of reforming academic cultures to reframing them by interweaving diversity initiatives into the context of the academic cultures.
- The MIC was very pleased to be a cosponsor with the University of Virginia Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center for the "Call to Duty Tour." The "Call to Duty Tour," a panel discussion crossing the nation, offers a platform for renewed debate on the merits of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. It featured several members of the armed services who embody the reality of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in today's armed forces.
- A delightful program from noted bilingual storyteller Gregorio Pedroza enchanted an audience of students, faculty, and staff with several stories touching on aspects of Hispanic and Latino cultures, many drawn from Pedroza's childhood. Pedroza delivered three sessions in both English and Spanish Ñ two on folklore and one on creative writing. These events were cosponsored by several other U.Va. organizations, including the Office of the Dean of Students/Student Life and the Alianza Community Leadership Council.
It featured several members of the armed services who embody the reality of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in today's armed forces.
- Claudia J. Ford is an international development expert who has lived and worked all over the world. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand and the founder and director of the Princess Trust, a charity that deals with issues of infant rape and child sexual abuse. Ford lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was a visiting scholar last year at U.Va. The MIC sponsored a reading and book signing for Ford's Why Do I Scream at God for the Rape of Babies? Appearing in Newcomb Hall, Ford captivated students, faculty, and staff with stories from her book and a discussion of the Princess Trust.
- In a program entitled "The Muslim Student Experience at U.Va.," the MIC sponsored a panel discussion with several U.Va. graduate students who shared their experiences as Muslim students at U.Va. The panel was moderated by the library's own Sajjad Yusuf and drew a sizable crowd of students, faculty, and staff to the Roberston Media Center in Clemons Library.
- During African-American History Month, the MIC sponsored presentations by Tony Burroughs, the international genealogist, author, and teacher recently featured on the PBS special "African-American Lives" with Louis Gates, Jr. Burroughs presented two programs in the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library touching on African-American genealogy. The first one, called "It Ain't All on the Web," was a review of the multitude of physical historical records and genealogical resources that are in archives and courthouses across the country, many of which may never be on the Internet. The other program, entitled "Freedmen's Bureau Research," was an exploration of the Freedmen Bureau records, a very valuable and important resource for African-American history and genealogy. These events were cosponsored by the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies/Center for the Study of Local Knowledge and the Office of Student Life/APA Programs and Services.
- During the Virginia Film Festival of 2005, the MIC was proud to be a cosponsor for visiting director, producer, and writer William Greaves. The event included screenings of three of Greaves's most influential films: Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One; Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 ½; and Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey, a documentary covering the life of the United Nations diplomat and 1950 Nobel Prize winner best known for his efforts to aid colonized nations in reinstating independence and for facilitating four armistice agreements between Israel and Arab neighbors.
- The MIC was pleased to bring Steven G. Fullwood to U.Va. for two programs addressing the preservation of the history of black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, same gender loving, queer, questioning, and in the life cultures (LGBT/SGL/Q/Q/inthelife). Fullwood, an accredited librarian and writer who currently works at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, founded the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive Project in 2000 to aid in the preservation of these increasingly rare materials. Fullwood presented two programs, one aimed at librarians and archivists held in Clemons Library, and another one for students, faculty, and staff held in the Kaleidoscope Diversity Center in Newcomb Hall, U.Va.'s student center.
- Nicholas Patler, author of Jim Crow and the Wilson Administration, delved deeply into the historic protest movement which questioned racial segregation and discrimination at the federal level and tested Woodrow Wilson during the first two years of his administration. The MIC was proud to bring Patler to U.Va. for a reading from his book and a discussion with Q & A. The event, held in the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library, was also broadcast on C-SPAN Book TV.
… when stress levels reach astronomical heights, the MIC will offer a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to sooth and calm the nerves.
In addition to these events, the MIC has also sponsored or cosponsored programs featuring Gelsy Verna, an associate professor of painting at the University of Wisconsin at Madison; Rolena Adorno, the Reuben Post Halleck Professor of Spanish and director of graduate studies at Yale University, whose areas of interest include colonial Spanish-American literature and history; Carlos Eire, winner of the 2003 National Book Award for Nonfiction for Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy; and Dorothy Height, who discussed her memoir, Open Wide the Freedom Gates, and her experiences as one of the leading figures in the civil rights movement.
Still to come this academic year, the MIC will present Tanglefoot, a high-energy Canadian folk band that interprets Canadian culture through song, and cosponsor the U.Va. Asian Film Festival. Also planned for finals week, when stress levels reach astronomical heights, the MIC will offer a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to sooth and calm the nerves. And, encouraged by its recent successes, the MIC is setting its sights on even higher-profile guests in coming years, including comedienne Margaret Cho and actress and oral historian Anna Deavere Smith. Although budget constraints may limit bringing in such luminaries, the MIC is willing to try.
Throughout its organizational life, the MIC has grown and changed, and it's certain to continue evolving as new challenges and opportunities present themselves. Through internal initiatives such as hiring, training, and orientation, the MIC strives to make the library a better place to work for all of its employees. And through a variety of programs and venues, the MIC endeavors to promote the notion that we are all, through our various cultural backgrounds and experiences, contributors to the multiplicity that makes up a university. As the University of Virginia advances toward its goal of becoming the model for a world-class research and education institution, the MIC will strive to play its part in making the library, and the university, a welcoming environment for all.
Matt Ball is the outreach and communications librarian for the humanities and social sciences at the University of Virginia and chair-elect of the Multicultural Issues Committee. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Leland Deeds is coordinator of access services for the Clemons and Alderman libraries at the University of Virginia and chair of the Multicultural Issues Committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.