How We Got Here
The turbulent 1960’s and early 1970’s marked the beginning of the development of multicultural/minority affairs offices on college campuses across the United States. This development was due, in large part, to the increasing numbers of African American and minority students entering traditionally White colleges and universities. African American students were demanding that White universities provide an environment that would be supportive of their endeavors.
During this same time period, African American students at the University of Kansas (KU) staged several protest movements. Among their list of demands was the establishment of an office for African American and minority students that would engage in minority recruitment of students and faculty, programming and the establishment of a long-range minority scholarship program.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) owes it existence to the protest movement of African American student and faculty members on the KU campus. A chronological list of events includes the following:
African American student activists made headlines in the spring of 1967, when they led protests over the lack of African American representation on the pom-pom squad. After submitting demands for representation, and leading a boycott by athletes of spring football practice, the students were guaranteed one African American pom-pom leader on the cheerleading squad.
In the Fall of 1968, students formed the Black Student Union (BSU) at KU. This organization was developed to provide African American students with a campus support group and to serve as a watchdog for the rights of African American students. It was through the BSU that a list of demands was presented to Chancellor Chalmers. One of their demands was for the establishment of a department that would aid in the recruitment and retention of minority and low-income students.
In response to African American student demands, the Urban Action Council was formed in the Spring of 1969. It consisted of University deans, faculty and students. Members of the BSU walked into one of the committee meetings and demanded scholarship money. What they received instead was funds to provided tutorial services and remedial courses. These funds established a program in the fall of 1969, that is now known as Supportive Educational Services (SES). Despite the lack of federal or state financial support, the Urban Action Council was able to successfully launch the program with funds obtained from the KU Endowment Association and the Kansas Union Bookstores.
In October 1969, acting Provost Francis Heller announced the appointment of Phillip M. Gary to fill the newly created position of Assistant to the Chancellor of Urban Affairs. The October 6, 1969 Faculty Newsletter reported, according to Heller, that “Gary’s immediate task will be to coordinate the University’s programs which related urban areas of the university and student population. To this end, Mr. Gary will review all programs and projects involving urban areas and future plans for such areas will be cleared with him before receiving final university approval.”
In February of 1970, the BSU presented additional concerns, in the form of demands to the University. The students demanded that administrative and faculty positions be filled by African American by September 1, 1970. The University was somewhat responsive to the demands; beginning in June 1970, seventeen African American faculty members were hired, and African Americans were appointed to administrative positions in the Offices of the Dean of Men, Dean of Women, Financial Aid and Admissions and Records. In addition, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a reorganization of the University’s administrative structure, which included the designation of Phillip Gary as the Director of the Office of Urban Affairs. Supportive Education Services (SES) became a component of the new office and was located in Watson library. The Office of Urban Affairs was located in the Chancellor’s Suite in Strong Hall and also became involved in enhancing the Urban Affairs academic major at the University and assisting students in finding summer jobs in urban areas across America.
Phillip Gary remained the Director of the Office of Urban Affairs until August of 1972 when he took a leave of absence from the University. In August, Brenda Marzett Vann, who was formerly the acting Director of SES was appointed acting Director of Urban Affairs. The office also changed its name to Minority Affairs to more accurately reflect the mission of the office and the population it served.
According to a University document written at the time, the purpose of the office was to “…serve students, faculty and staff and to assist them in dealing with problems related to their status as members of minority groups." The Office of Minority Affairs would, however, not only serve in a reactive manner, but also would perceive problematic areas and attempt to alleviate them through the University structure.
It was under the direction of Brenda Marzett Vann that Minority Affairs expanded its programs, received the first federal funding for Supportive Educational Services (SES) through an Upward Bound grant and sponsored the first Career Day Program for minority students.
In February 1972, a coalition for women calling themselves the “February Sisters” held a sit-in in the East Asian Studies building to protest similar inequities as those expressed by the BSU in the late 1960’s. In response to their grievances, the University established the Office of Affirmative Action for Women. This office was changed to the Office of Affirmative Action in May 1973. During this time, the University proposed to combine the Office of Minority Affairs and the Office of Affirmative Action. The proposal met with resistance from the staffs of Minority Affairs and the Black Student Union. The proposal was not adopted.
Brenda Marzett Vann resigned her position in the summer of 1974. In the Fall of 1974, Professor Mary Townsend was appointed the Director of the office. In 1975, SES became an independent unit reporting directly to the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Without this direct link to the academic activity of minority students, the Office of Minority Affairs began to develop a cultural enrichment program focus. It began to broaden its counseling and advising for students, to place more emphasis on the recruitment of graduate students and to counsel students with personal, financial and social problems.
In May of 1977, the office held the first annual minority graduation banquet at the Eldridge Hotel to recognize the achievements of graduating minority students. This function became a tradition that is now in its thirty third year.
In July 1982, Professor Mary Townsend resigned as the Director in order to return to teaching. In October 1982, Executive Vice Chancellor William E. Hogan appointed a Review committee for the Office of Minority Affairs. The charge of this committee was to review all aspects of the Office and to recommend how services might be improved. Among the recommendations that surfaced were: “The Office of Minority Affairs would be responsible for minority student recruitment, retention, programming, counseling and support and to function primarily in an advisory and support capacity for faculty and staff recruitment and retention. To be responsible for the development of multicultural academic programs and move the Office to Student Affairs at a level to that of a deanship.”
Vernell Spearman was appointed acting Director of the Office of Minority Affairs. Later that year, Spearman became the Director of the Office. In March of 1987, the Office of Minority Affairs, which had reported directly to the Executive Vice Chancellor’s Office, became a unit of the Department of Student Life.
Vernell Spearman resigned in 1988, after serving the longest tenure of any Director of the Office. In March of that year, Dr. Rosita Dorsey was appointed Director of the Office. Dorsey resigned in May 1989. Marshall Jackson was appointed interim Director in June 1989. Jackson served as interim Director until January 1991, at which time Dr. Sherwood Thompson of Amherst Massachusetts became the 7th Director of the Office of Minority Affairs.
In August of 1991, the office expanded its operations, increased its programs and thus, moved from a small third floor space in Strong Hall to a larger, more visible location on the first floor. Under the leadership of Dr. Thompson, the primary objective of the OMA was to serve students and to provide for the special needs of under-represented minority populations. These special needs were met through imaginative strategies and a number of programs and services that sought to improve the quality of the minority student’s college experience.
Also under the direction of Dr. Thompson, the Office of Minority Affairs lends administrative leadership to the operation of the KU Multicultural Resource Center. This center is designed to enhance cultural awareness and appreciation of cultures among all ethnic groups on campus. This organization is housed on campus and is established to promote an educational environment that recognizes and celebrates the diverse composition of the Lawrence Campus population.
Dr. Sherwood Thompson resigned in 1999, and Alton D. Scales succeeded to the directorship in August 1999. Robert N. Page Jr. became the Interim Director in June of 2000, after Alton D. Scales resigned and has since been named the permanent Director. The office underwent a name change from Minority Affairs to Multicultural Affairs to reflect the multicultural focus. The OMA continues to focus on providing opportunities to minority students to enhance their educational experience at KU by serving the African American, Asian American, Hispanic American and Native American communities.
In the Fall of 2000, the HAWK Link program was developed to introduce freshmen and transfer students to KU. That year the stEp program (Mentor/Tutor) was folded into HAWK Link. Since then the HAWK Link program has become one of the premier programs winning several national awards and accolades. This also changed much of the focus on the office from just programming to academic success and programming. HAWK Link now serves over 300 students.
In the spring semester of 2000, through the vision of Mr. Robert N. Page Jr., Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the idea for an updated cultural center was proposed to the university administration through a proposed program plan. That fall semester, Ms. Santos Núñez was hired as the Program Director for the Multicultural Resource Center. She immediately infused the MRC with the campus community creating an environment that would promote student learning and education. Ms. Nunez was instrumental in promoting the MRC as a facility that supported the academic mission of the institution.
In the spring of 2001 a committee was formed to submit an official “Building Program Plan” for a new Multicultural Resource Center and was presented to the university administration. The following year Student Senate presidential candidates listed the construction of a new Multicultural Resource Center on their platform. It was not until the spring of 2003 through the work of several students that Senate passed a resolution stating that they would supplement private donations from the Sabatini Family with student fees for the immediate construction of an updated cultural center. The following academic year (2003-2004) a building committee was established to complete the process of building a new facility.
The new facility features updated technology, more programming space for student organizations and more academic resources. The updated facility also includes additional study areas for the Office of Multicultural Affairs tutoring program (SOAR) as well as informal study groups. With the growth of changing demographics and the appreciation of cultural programming, an updated facility accommodates the influx of inclusive programming on a college campus and also allows for programming sponsored by various campus departments and organizations. The new center ensures that we meet the needs identified in the goals and mission of the OMA.
In the Spring of 2009 the entire staff moved from 145 Strong Hall to the Sabatini Multicultural Resource Center. This move will allow for the OMA to continue to provide students with programming, academic support and resources that will foster, encourage and engage students in a community that moves beyond tolerance and challenge themselves to make changes for a strong and inclusive future.
Rueben Perez served as Interim Director of the OMA from October 2010 until June 2012 when the previous director resigned. Under his leadership, the Hawk Link program was revised. In addition, the OMA improved existing relationships with campus partners and saw an increase in the diversity of the students who utilized OMA resources. In February 2012, the OMA was moved from Student Affairs to the Office of Diversity & Equity. Blane Harding joined the OMA staff as Director in July 2012.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs remains an integral unit of the University of Kansas. It offers important resources for students of color and serves as the nexus between the minority population and the wider majority population on campus. To enhance the retention of minority students, programs are sponsored by OMA to address the needs of students on an academic, personal, social and cultural level. Our motto is “We Are One Community” and the OMA strives to foster better relations and cultural enrichment among all student populations. The presence of the Office of Multicultural Affairs serves to create an environment that fosters academic success for everyone.