The Division of Student Life encompasses departments and offices that hit many parts of the MIT student experience. In this series, we highlight the work of individual departments and offices.
Here, La-Tarri Canty, assistant director for student activities and director of multicultural programs, shares five things about the Office of Multicultural Programs.
That new office smell
Formed in September 2011, the Office of Multicultural Programs, or OMP, provides a safe space for students to develop and broaden their cultural connections.
OMP is the newest branch of the Student Activities Office (SAO), which resides on the fifth floor of the student center in W20-549. SAO hosts other groups that support diversity, including LGBT@MIT and Women@MIT.
"MIT, in the bigger picture, is in a position to make the spotlight on diversity a brighter and stronger one," says Leah Flynn, assistant dean and director for student life and leadership programs, who serves as director for the SAO. "Creating this office was a step in doing just that, particularly to support our underrepresented student populations."
Inaugural OMP Director La-Tarri Canty is new to MIT, but she is no stranger to supporting those underrepresented student populations in university settings. She has a lengthy history in higher education, most recently working for five years as the assistant director of multicultural programs at the University of Florida, St. Petersburg.
Serving dozens of campus cultural groups
OMP oversees 67 diverse student clubs and organizations, from the Hong Kong Student Society to the Turkish Student Association. Canty hired two graduate interns, Jessica Faith Carter and Denise Del Aguila, for additional support of the two most active groups — the Black Student Union and the Latino Cultural Center.
"The cultural groups provide students with the opportunity to learn about and celebrate particular facets of cultures," Canty says. "They also provide a number of networking opportunities."
Canty trains and guides the many cultural group student leaders. She also taps into SAO to provide groups with a wide range of helpful resources.
A multicultural office at a multicultural institute
With students from a wide range of diverse backgrounds, including nearly 3,000 international students, MIT has long been a proverbial melting pot. OMP encourages students to embrace their own cultures while discovering more about others'.
"Students here are very smart and independent," Canty says. "Sometimes, they are concerned that if they learn and collaborate with other cultures, they may lose some of their identity. This office is here to show them that isn't the case."
An annual student conference
From Feb. 24 to Feb. 25 at the MIT Endicott House in Dedham, OMP will host the Multicultural Conference, or MC2, to bring together students from all cultural identities. With the theme "Standing Out and Fitting In," MC2 provides students with the confidence and resources to navigate MIT's diverse cultural landscape.
"The conference will provide an opportunity to talk about issues that we don't usually discuss, since people are sometimes uncomfortable bringing them up," Canty says.
On the first night of the conference, students will get to know each other and discuss how they identify themselves. The second day will feature guest speakers and nine workshops, including sessions on cultural awareness and development.
The deadline for registration for MC2 is Feb. 19. For more information, visit the MC2 website
Plans for growth
This semester, OMP will conduct a number of focus groups and surveys to pinpoint how the office can best serve students in the future. An advisory board composed of students, faculty and staff will also guide OMP with suggestions for best practices surrounding multicultural issues.
"I'm looking forward to more opportunities for collaboration," Canty says. "It's a new office and a new position, so I'm still building relationships."
"La-Tarri has been doing a fabulous job of first building relationships with students and student groups, listening to them, and then taking in feedback of what programs and initiatives are needed," Flynn says. "That is the key way to be successful here at MIT as someone in her position; to listen and engage with students first, and then to ensure that they are included within the planning processes moving forward."
A new OMP student programming board, which will host a number of events to boost students' cultural awareness, is set to launch this semester. In fall 2012, OMP will develop a robust mentoring program. As the office grows, it will focus on encouraging students to engage in meaningful, cross-cultural dialogue and activities.
"College, especially at MIT, is a great opportunity to broaden your scope," Canty says. "We are the sum of our experiences, and the more experiences you have, the more well rounded you can be."
For more information, visit the Office of Multicultural Programs website.