Multiculturalism at UMass and the Five Colleges

One doesn’t need to look far in the Pioneer Valley or the Five Colleges to find multicultural programs with the intent of propagating a diverse and tolerant society for all students. Just at the University of Massachusetts, organizations like the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS) promote multiculturalism and offer events that spread awareness and integrate multiple different groups.

Students and faculty at the University of Massachusetts participated in the YWCA Take a Stand Against Racism event in Wilider Hall on Friday April 26th from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The opening panel discussion was named on “Building Strong and Diverse Communities: Taking Action to Prevent and Reduce Acts of Racial Hatred.” The panelists consisted of U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan,Debora Ferreira the executive director of equal opportunity and diversity at UMass Amherst, and Amilcar Shabazz, faculty advisor to the chancellor for diversity and excellence and professor of Afro-American studies at UMass Amherst.

Ferreira said that the Office of Equal Opportunity was put in place because of years of struggle but the office was created for all the “isms.” “I’m an immigrant,” in this country she said, “why should I be targeted because of the color of my skin?”

The event prompted a gathering of hordes of varying students to come take part in a number of events such as open board discussions or speakers. One such discussion involved a group listening and analyzing of the Brad Paisley song featuring LL Cool J song “Accidental Racist,” a country and hip-hop hybrid track focusing on racism.

CMASS goes further than propagating these diversity events and also maintains four cultural enrichment centers on campus. “The cultural center spaces have been around for some time,” says Director of CMASS Dr. Shelly Perdomo. “There are a lot of people who don’t know that UMass has four cultural center.”

“I don’t think that our allies know that these spaces are here, they’re really just a great space to build community and engage in cross cultural conversations and community building,” says Perdomo

“We do quite a bit of outreach… we work very closely with Student Bridges, particularly when it comes to doing tours for students who are first generation so that they know that CMASS exists   and can assist them in terms of navigating the culture of this pretty large institution,” says Perdomo. “And of course we use peers, word of mouth, we use Facebook and Twitter. The best way to reach students is through social media, that’s where it’s at.”

Spiritual Life at Hampshire College is another Five College group that seeks to enrich its community with multiculturalism and create a tolerant and diverse society. They offer a number of resources such as locations to mediate and do yoga, contemplative life advisors, and hope to incorporate as many different groups of people as they can.

The organization acts as a sort of umbrella group for countless other clubs in the Hampshire College community ranging from the Queer Jews and AlliesShamanism StudiesYoga Collective, and several others.

Their long awaited event is the Holi festival of colors. The festival, with its roots in India, entails community members gathering and throwing paint and colored powder at one another in celebration of the beginning of Spring.

“Everyone in Hampshire, since we are moving the interfaith and intercultural society into Hampshire, everyone seems to attend [Holi],” says International Community Advisor Syma Sheikh of Spiritual Life.

“The Cultural Center always have get-togethers for international students and high schoolers like dinners so that they can see what Hampshire is like,” says Hampshire student Jade Evans who is covered in paint at the Holi Festival.

“When I was about 17 years old I was up in India,” says Lael Schultz who was visiting his daughter at Hampshire College “and it was Holi day, everyone was throwing paint around… Then later in life, when I was living in Brooklyn the same event took place, and now here at Hampshire College too. The thing about multiculturalism is, in Brooklyn as well as here in the Five Colleges, is that everybody is somebody.”


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