By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s Office of Multicultural Affairs has a new name, but its mission remains the same.
Now known as the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, the change better reflects the office’s role on campus and the services it provides for all UNK students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests.
“Our goal is to create an environment that educates our students on diversity issues and makes everyone feel welcome, regardless of race, ethnicity or other backgrounds,” said Juan Guzman, director of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion.
The office, located on the east end of the Nebraskan Student Union’s lower level, was created in 1997, when it was known as the Office of Multicultural Affairs and International Student Services. It became the Office of Multicultural Affairs in 2000, when the Office of International Education was formed to better serve international students studying at UNK.
While the office continues to focus on programming that promotes cultural awareness and services supporting students from various ethnic backgrounds, the multicultural affairs name didn’t fully represent the work being done there.
“We feel like the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion communicates that sense of a welcoming community, regardless of what background you come from. When you are part of our community, we will not only welcome you, we will work hard to make sure you’re included,” said Gilbert Hinga, dean of UNK’s Division of Student Affairs, which oversees the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion.
The updated name, a trend among universities nationwide, reinforces a UNK value that all people matter, Hinga said.
“We want to develop a support network that allows all students to feel like there’s a place for them here,” Hinga said. “That’s what the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion is.”
The office provides a “home away from home” for UNK students, a safe environment where they can discuss issues, interact with their peers and engage in an increasingly diverse and global society.
It hosts several student organizations that emphasize the importance of diversity, acceptance and community service, including:
- Sister to Sister, which focuses on women’s issues
- Queer Straight Alliance, which spreads awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community
- Social Justice League, which raises awareness of social issues
- Define American, which works to change the narrative about immigration
- DANZA, a group that learns about other cultures through dance
- Hispanic Student Association
- Black Student Association
The Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion provides educational opportunities for students through various events, on-campus speakers and activities, brings leadership to diversity projects and training and collaborates with other offices on recruiting efforts, including Conozca UNK, a program for Spanish-speaking families, Multicultural Leaders Day and the Nebraska Cultural Unity Conference. Other events celebrate Black History Month and Women’s History Month.
The office, which administers multiple scholarships, also assists with student advising and serves as a resource for families navigating the university system.
“It’s important for us to send a message that we value diversity and we’re here to help,” Guzman said. “It’s important to our university, and I think it’s even more important to our families.”