When I uploaded my resume to the ColumbiaWorks student employment site, I was hoping to get a part-time administrative job in the Fiction Writing office. Boy was I surprised when I got called in for an interview in the school’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. I was skeptical, because I’d quit an office job to come to grad school and didn’t want to feel like I was going back to the same thing, but it turned out great. I’ve been working in Multicultural Affairs (MCA) as Graduate Assistant to the Director of African-American Cultural Affairs since the fall of 2009, helping to plan and run programs and events designed to increase the engagement and retention of black students at Columbia College Chicago.Here’s a bit from MCA’s Mission Statement:
“Columbia College Chicago’s Multicultural Affairs Office is a division of Student Affairs that exists to foster and support the intellectual, social and cultural development of all students, especially those from diverse cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. Offices within Multicultural Affairs include African American Cultural Affairs, Asian American Cultural Affairs, International Student Affairs, Latino Cultural Affairs, and LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community. Together, these offices promote and celebrate diversity by creating a cultural agenda for the college community, and in doing so, we help retain and encourage our diverse students as they matriculate. By providing programming and services that are relevant to the experiences of our diverse students, we assist them to thrive and connect with all of their peers, mentors, faculty, and staff here at Columbia.”
Here’s why I love working in Multicultural Affairs:
1. I Am A Student, First And Foremost
Working on campus as a student worker, your employers understand that school comes first. You didn’t come to Columbia for a part-time job, you came here to get a degree and make connections. With that in mind, a job on campus is a lot more flexible than, say, a bartending gig.
2. It Has Made The School Bigger
I wanted to make the most of my time in grad school by taking advantage of all of the events and resources that the campus has to offer, but as a grad student, the school is limited to one department, which is usually located on a single floor of a building. The upside to this is that MFA students don’t have to take gen-ed classes that are outside of their area of interest, but the downside is that the school can feel small. Multicultural Affairs opened things up for me. Through the office’s programming, I’ve had the chance to meet students, faculty, and staff from multiple departments, plus participate in events with artistic heroes of mine such as Gil Scott-Heron (R.I.P.!), 9th Wonder, and Sonia Sanchez.
3. Getting My Barack On
Barack Obama moved to Chicago to gain stronger ties to the black community, and so did Chris Terry. I don’t intend to run for president, but as I continue to get to know myself as a half black/half white man, being around a balance of people is very important. While the Fiction Writing department is surprisingly diverse, MCA is even more diverse, so it’s been really beneficial to me as a person and artist.
4. I Got Career Options
When I came to Columbia, all I could do was proofread and make lattes, and the espresso was wrecking my nerves. I didn’t want to leave Columbia with a Master’s Degree and go right back to editorial work. Lucky for me, I’ve done a lot of teaching, and working in MCA has piqued my interest in student affairs work. I’ll be entering the workforce this spring with three years’ experience in a new field that is anything but boring.
The Story Week Reader is published for the Fiction Writing department’s annual Story Week festival. It features flash fiction by students from the department and is photocopied, like a zine. In 2011, the SWR published my story “The Greek,” about how self-conscious I was as a super-duper-light-skinned guy starting a job in African-American Cultural Affairs. Check out a PDF of “The Greek” under Creative Nonfiction.