Celebrating diverse cultures on campus
A multicultural student group is blossoming on the campus of Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, in the heart of what has traditionally been a strongly Dutch community.
La Mosaic, Northwestern's multicultural student association, was founded in 2010 by two students who saw a ministry gap on campus and decided to do something about it.
As an African American student on a campus where only 12 percent of the student body is non-white, Christian Butler was having trouble finding a place to fit in. "He was on the verge of transferring because he did not feel comfortable here at Northwestern in terms of the spiritual [atmosphere]," says Rahn Franklin, a Northwestern staff member who serves as advisor for La Mosaic. "He wasn't connecting.
"He was also an athlete, and finding it odd that he could not connect with his teammates on the football team.
"Then he decided, rather than leave, he was going to do something about this. He recognized that he would not be the only one going through these troubles. He came up with this idea of having a care group of people that were struggling like he was."
Butler wasn't the only one longing for a place to express his cultural identity. Fellow student Angelica Perez, who is of Mexican heritage, approached Northwestern's associate dean for intercultural affairs with a similar idea for a group where students feeling culturally isolated could connect with others who understand and identify with their culture.
Once Butler and Perez connected, a vision for La Mosaic was born. "The group hopes to be brothers and sisters to one another and aid one another in troubling times, be that spiritually, socially, or academically," says Butler. "Also, La Mosaic aims to educate the campus on what it means to be multicultural."
The group's Monday night gatherings are both educational and social. Sometimes the group chooses two students to share their life stories and participate in a question and answer session to help other students better understand their culture and experiences. They also host discussions on films related to issues of race and culture, like Crash.
Members also plan outings to a nearby city to visit ethnic restaurants. At the end of each school year, La Mosaic hosts a barbeque during which students reflect on the year, honor the graduating seniors, and just enjoy one another's company.
La Mosaic's foundational scripture is 1 Corinthians 12:24-26: "But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it" (NIV).
"This Bible verse encompasses everything we are about and hope to accomplish," says Butler. "La Mosaic wants to represent a living body that works together.
"More importantly, La Mosaic wants to reflect the kingdom of God. We feel the Lord calls us to live as one and not as individuals. Once we can successfully become inclusive of one another, we can then truly see God's love for us."
Developing a culture of welcome
"It has been interesting to see how La Mosaic has helped to bring more awareness to racial issues on Northwestern's campus," says Butler.
"Prior to La Mosaic, some minority students felt they had no voice on the campus and that their interests did not matter. The group has successfully opened the door to having tough conversations with other students, faculty, and staff pertaining to race. Minority students now stand firm in what they believe to be true and have the backing of other students and staff when they feel it is necessary to speak out."
Northwestern has adopted John 17:20-26 and Matthew 22:34-40 as guiding scriptures for its intentional focus on being welcoming and diverse. "They are essentially the foundation for all of our work in the Office of Intercultural Affairs and for me particularly as academic support and diversity specialist," says Franklin.
He says that although Northwestern still has some work to do to help multicultural students feel at truly home and accepted, they're making progress. "I think there is an increased awareness of our need to be welcoming. There are efforts on the academic side and on the cultural/social side of campus to make it a friendlier environment to all people."
"Students of color at NWC had grown used to doing their best to fit into the dominant culture of the campus," says Kevin McMahan, Northwestern's associate dean for intercultural affairs. "It wasn't working very well for them as a whole, and of course that stance was doing nothing for validating cultural differences on campus.
"Now, largely thanks to La Mosaic and campus support for the organization, there can be a sense of belonging on campus that doesn't include leaving your heritage behind."