Our Story

black and white photo of many students in the 1960s holding signs in protest of racism on KU's campus

How We Got Here

The turbulent 1960s and early 1970s 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 KU staged several protest movements. Among their list of demands was the establishment of an office for African American and minority students that would support the recruitment of students and faculty, offer relevant programming, and establish a long-range minority scholarship program.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) owes its existence to the protest movement of Black students and faculty on the University of Kansas (KU) campus. Key OMA historical events tell the story of how our office came to be and how it has evolved to better meet students' needs over time.

Our History

  • Spring 1967: African American student activists made headlines 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.


  • Fall 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 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 Laurence Chalmers. One of their demands called for the establishment of a department that would aid in the recruitment and retention of minority and low-income students.


  • Spring & Fall 1969: In response to African American student demands, the Urban Action Council (UAC) - consisting of deans, faculty, and students - was formed in spring 1969. BSU members walked into a UAC meeting and demanded scholarship money and while scholarship money was not provided, funds were obtained to establish a program now known as Supportive Educational Services (SES) in fall 1969. Despite the lack of federal or state financial support, the UAC successfully launched the program, which provided tutorial services and remedial courses, with funds obtained from the KU Endowment Association and the Kansas Union Bookstores.


  • 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 related to the 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."
  • 1970: The Black Student Union (BSU) presented additional demands to the university, including that administrative and faculty positions be filled by African Americans by September 1, 1970. KU was somewhat responsive to the demands, and beginning in June 1970, 17 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. Additionally, the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) 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, which Supportive Education Services (SES) became a part of.


  • 1972: Following Phillip Gary's leave from the university in August 1972, Brenda Marzett Vann (who formerly served as acting Director of SES) was appointed acting Director of Urban Affairs which had 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." Under Brenda Marzett Vann's leadership, the Office of Minority Affairs expanded its programs, received the first federal funding for SES through an Upward Bound grant, and sponsored the first Career Day Program for minority students.


  • 1972-1973: 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 1960s. In response to their grievances, the university established the Office of Affirmative Action for Women, which was changed to the Office of Affirmative Action in May 1973. During this time, the university proposed combining this office with the Office of Minority Affairs, which was met by resistance by the staff as well as the BSU, so the proposal was not adopted. 


  • 1974: Following Brenda Marzett Vann's resignation from her position in the summer of 1974, Professor Mary Townsend was appointed Director of the Office of Minority Affairs that fall.


  • 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, 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.


  • May 1977: The Office of Minority Affairs held the first annual minority graduation banquet at the Eldridge Hotel. Now known as the Multicultural Graduation Celebration, the event continues to present day.
  • July 1982: Professor Mary Townsend resigned as Director of the Office of Minority Affairs and returned to teaching full-time. Vernell Spearman was appointed acting Director, and was eventually named Director of the office later that year.


  • October 1982: Executive Vice Chancellor William E. Hogan established the Office of Minority Affairs Review Committee, which was charged with reviewing all aspects of the office and developing service improvement recommendations. Among the recommendations was the following: "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."


  • March 1987: The Office of Minority Affairs moved from reporting directly to the Executive Vice Chancellor's office to the Department of Student Life.


  • 1988: After serving the longest tenure of of any Director of the office, Vernell Spearman resigned. In March, Dr. Rosita Dorsey was appointed as Director and served until her resignation in 1989.


  • 1989: Following Dr. Dorsey's resignation, Marshall Jackson was appointed Interim Director in June 1989. Jackson served as Interim Director until January 1991, when Dr. Sherwood Thompson of Amherst Massachusetts was named the seventh Director of the Office of Minority Affairs.
  • August 1991: The Office of Minority Affairs expanded its operations, increased its programs, and moved from a small third floor space in Strong Hall to a larger, more visible first floor location. Under the leadership of Dr. Sherwood Thompson, the office aimed to serve students and meet the specific needs of underrepresented minority populations. In addition, the office provided administrative leadership to the operation of the KU Multicultural Resource Center, which was designed to enhance cultural awareness and appreciation among all ethnic groups on campus.


  • 1999: Dr. Thompson resigned and was succeeded by Alton D. Scales as Director in August 1999.
  • June 2000: Following Alton D. Scales' resignation, Robert N. Page, Jr. was named Interim Director and became the Director later in the year. Unider his leadership, the office was renamed as the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) to reflect its multicultural focus.


  • 2000: The HAWK Link program was developed to introduce freshmen and transfer students to KU. HAWK Link went on to become a premiere program, winning several national awards and accolades, and continues to serve students.


  • Fall 2020: Under Page's leadership, the idea for an updated cultural center was proposed to university administration. Santos Núñez was hired as Program Director for the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) and immediately fused the MRC with the campus community, creating an environment which promoted student learning and education. Núñez was instrumental in promoting the MRC as a facility that supported the academic mission of the institution.


  • 2001-2002: In spring 2001, a committee was formed to submit an official "Building Program Plan" for a new MRC to university administration. The Following year, Student Senate presidential candidates listed the construction of a new MRC on their platform.


  • 2003-2004: In spring 2003, through the work of several students, Student 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, a building committee was established to complete the process of building a new facility.


  • February 2008: After several construction delays, the Sabatini Multicultural Resource Center (SMRC) opened. The new facility featured updated technology, programming space for student organizations, academic resources, and study areas.


  • Spring 2009: The entire OMA staff moved from Strong Hall to the SMRC.
  • October 2010: Following Robert N. Page, Jr.'s Resignation as Director, Rueben Perez was named Interim Director and served in that role until June 2012. Under his leadership, the HAWK Link program was revised. The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) improved existing relationships with campus partners and saw an increase in the diversity of the students using OMA resources.


  • February 2012: The OMA moved from Student Affairs to the Office of Diversity & Equity.


  • July 2012: Blane Harding joined the OMA staff as Director. Under Harding's leadership, the OMA developed stronger relationships with faculty and extended diversity and social justice training across campus.


  • May 2015: Following Blane Harding's resignation as Director of the OMA, Dr. Precious Porras (OMA Associate Director of Diversity Education & Social Justice Programs) was named Interim Director.


  • Fall 2015: Fall 2015 saw the emergence of the Rock Chalk Invisible Hawk (RCIH) movement on KU's campus. RCIH described themselves as a multicultural coalition of students bearing "testimony and witness to the marginalization of students" on KU's campus and demanded campus accountability around social justice issues and the improvement of quality of life for marginalized students. RCIH presented 15 demands to the university during a town hall forum, one of which was a call for the hiring of a permanent OMA director by December 2015, after which Dr. Porras was named Director of the OMA.


  • December 2015: The naming of Dr. Porras as Director of the OMA meant the office had a woman as its head for the first time in 25 years. Under Porras' leadership, the OMA was instrumental in leading the university toward a more socially just community and expanding programs and initiatives that supported undocumented and queer students.


  • Spring 2016: Under the direction of Cody Charles (OMA Associate Director) and Emily Gullickson (OMA Program Coordinator), the OMA launched its Social Justice Fellows Program. Over the course of the spring 2016 semester, "the OMA Social Justice Fellows Program provided intensive direction to faculty and staff to expand their understanding and application of social justice education - especially as it relates to a higher education setting - and understanding current events and topics in context." In total, 39 faculty and staff from the Lawrence and Edwards campuses comprised the program's inaugural cohort.


  • 2017: Dr. Porras took on additional leadership responsibilities and was named Assistant Vice Provost for Diversity & Equity while retaining her OMA Director duties.
  • 2020-2021: With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university closed campus in March 2020. In accordance with the campus closure, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) was forced to close the Sabatini Multicultural Resource Center (SMRC) but continued to assist students through virtual programming and office hours.


  • December 2020: Chancellor Doug Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer announced a reorganization of the university's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). As a result, the OMA moved from reporting to DEI to Student Affairs.


  • February 2021: A decision was made to split Dr. Precious Porras' two roles (Assistant Vice Provost and OMA Director) into two positions to allow for the growth and development of both positions and the constituents they serve. As a result, Dr. Porras retained her Assistant Vice Provost position and announced the appointment of Dr. Kevin Joseph as Interim OMA Director.