Monday, November 28, 2005

Calvin students debate the benefits of Mosaic floor

Original Chimes Article Here

Students feel issues of diversity on campus are overlooked under current system

I am a senior at Calvin College, and I am writing this letter as a concerned student. This is the fourth year I have lived on campus.

I appreciate the emphasis Calvin has put on multiculturalism and certainly agree that, since Calvin has a relatively homogenous population, encouraging multiculturalism and diversity is necessary.

However, I am concerned about the multicultural floor on second Kalsbeek-Huizenga. I fear that Calvin has used this floor as a quick fix to the problem, without having fully considered the possible ramifications. I also fear that Calvin has used this floor primarily to improve its image without genuine concern for the problem of diversity on campus.

Although I have never lived on this floor, I know several people who have and have talked to them at length. While I appreciate the intentions behind this multicultural floor, I believe it can easily be regarded as a kind of voluntary or even an institutionally encouraged form of segregation.

I have talked to one minority student who told me that the summer before entering Calvin she was sent several pieces of literature encouraging her to join the multicultural floor. She thought this literature strongly implied that, since she was in the minority, this floor was the place where she should live.

The fact that this floor is on the outskirts of campus residence further leads to the sense of segregation. I realize this is not intentional on Calvin’s part, but the location is, nevertheless, not ideal.

I spent two years living in Boer-Bennink and noticed a tremendous lack of diversity in the student population. I believe a multicultural floor has the effect of making the rest of the campus less diverse.

I believe this is no slight issue. Most of the socializing of Calvin students revolves around their floor. Most of the friends a Calvin student has are made on his or her floor. More often than not, after completing two years in the dorms, a Calvin student will live with people from his or her floor. The floor a student is put on determines the friends the student will have for the rest of his or her college career. Therefore, the problem of segregation is serious. In addition, I believe the situation has come to the point where many Calvin students, upon seeing a minority students on campus, will simply assume he or she lives or has lived on the multicultural floor.

Furthermore, I have talked to many others about this during my four years at Calvin and I believe the above opinions are widely shared among the student body.

Most students, like me, would rather see a multicultural campus than a multicultural floor.The following are several alternatives I have thought of to a multicultural floor. They are ranked in order of what I believe are most preferable to least preferable, but I believe all are better than the current situation:

1. Calvin should teach a class dealt with the same issues deal with on the multicultural floor. The same issues explored on the multicultural floor could be discussed here, but the advantage would be that the students enrolled in this class would return to different dorms. They could bring what they have learned with them to the floors they live on and spread the message.

2. Calvin could continue the multicultural floor, but blindly accept applicants for this floor without knowledge of the student’s race or ethnic background. In the same way, all students would be encouraged to enroll on this floor equally, without minority students being made to feel this floor is the place they are expected to reside.

3. At the very least, Calvin should move this floor to a place that is more centrally located among the dorms and the campus in general, such as Rooks-VanDellen.

- Joel Swagman
Letter signed by 63 students

Members of Mosaic student leadership defend function and purpose of community

The Mosaic Community has been in existence for four years and has already made an impact on the Calvin community.

However, as Joel Swagman’s letter indicates, there seems to be some confusion as to the function and purpose of this program.

We, the program assistants on the Mosaic floor (facilitators of floor events), feel that it is important that we address these concerns and help dispel the myths.

We believe the floor is one of the many ways in which Calvin is positively dealing with the issue of diversity on campus.

The Mosaic Community was formed to promote diversity at Calvin by creating an environment where people could come together and learn about each other. By experiencing what it is like to live with others different from ourselves, “we learn and practice Christian understandings of human diversity, to be change agents both within Calvin and in broader society” (Mosaic Vision Statement).

A separate housing application is needed to apply for this floor and every incoming freshman is sent information about this community. The floor runs best with a mix of different people from different ethnic backgrounds and thus the application asks for one’s cultural background.

Minority students, both American and international, as well as third culture Caucasian students, all provide different cultural perspectives from the traditional Calvin student.

This, combined with many of the traditional Dutch backgrounds, provides everyone with a wonderful opportunity to share experiences and learn about each other.

All applicants are given equal opportunity to become members of the floor, however there is limited number of spaces available and thus some students are not accepted.

Kalsbeek-Huizenga is structured differently from the other halls, which gives it certain advantages when trying to develop an intentional community. It contains two joining lobbies both on the second and third floor and the basement also connects.

This is the reason that this hall was chosen for the program. Unfortunately, some people have misunderstood this decision and perceived it as a form of segregation.

In reality, it is an architectural detail. The program could be moved to another building, but since Calvin is such a small campus it shouldn’t matter which residence hall the program is located in.

Throughout Mosaic’s four years, there has often been the concern that this program will draw AHANA (Asian, Hispanic, African and Native American) students away from other halls.

Perhaps looking at some current statistics will help us see this issue more clearly.

Presently, there are 178 AHANA students at Calvin, of which 114 live on campus. Of those 114, only 16 AHANA students live on the Mosaic floor. In fact, 19 AHANA students live in NVW, which has no intentional program like Mosaic.

With these numbers, we can conclude that Mosaic is not a threat to the diversity on campus. Rather, it actually enhances diversity by offering another program and experience for those who are interested.

Likewise, all the dorms include many culturally-diverse students, Boer-Bennink not being an exception. If the Mosaic Community did not exist, it would mean that only one to two male or female minority students would be added to each hall.

Swagman states in his letter that people, when seeing a minority student, assume this person lives on the Mosaic floor. Obviously the facts reveal a different picture.

Clearly there is a lack of diversity on this campus and work needs to be done to address this issue. There are many ways we feel that Calvin has made an effort to develop a multicultural campus.

Presently Calvin’s redevelopment of the core curriculum will include multicultural issues and cross-cultural engagement. Even so, there are many opportunities to take a class that deals with diversity or teaches about a different culture.

There is also a six-week program called Healing Racism that addresses issues of racism and helps to break down the dividing walls between different ethnicities.

In addition, there are many organizations on campus that try to promote cultural events such as the Multicultural Student Activities Board (MSAB), Banderas, China Club, Korean Christian Fellowship, Gospel Choir, Multicultural Drama Group and the International Student Committee. Many Calvin departments also try to hold events that have multicultural themes.

Professor Randal Jelks, director of the Multicultural Academic Affairs Office, in conjunction with other departments, brings speakers to campus who deal with multicultural issues.

The Mosaic Community is not trying to promote segregation. To say that the floor produces a less diverse campus is unfounded.

Many of the events that we participate in are campus-wide events to which everyone is invited.

Statistics show that there are 114 AHANA students living on campus. This does not include the many international students who also live on campus.

In order to better promote diversity, each individual must take the initiative to get out of his or her comfort zone and interact with those who are different from him or herself.

In addition, at the institutional level, Calvin needs to continue to make every effort to provide opportunities for all students to experience increased diversity and learn more about multiculturalism.

- David Dykhouse, Eric Flores,
Marla Love, and Sung-Ae Yang
(Mosaic floor program assistants)

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