On Oct. 28, the Office of Multicultural Development hosted its monthly “Ignite” session focusing on the topic of “Effective Cross Cultural Engagement.” Representatives from OMD, together with students and faculty, packed the Phelps Room to hear a panel discussion regarding race, culture and effective engagement at Wheaton and beyond. The distinguished panel included: assistant professor of anthropology Dr. Christine Folch, assistant professor of psychology Dr. Darlene Hannah, assistant professor of communication Dr. Theon Hill, associate professor of sociology Dr. Henry Kim, assistant professor of psychology Dr. Sandra Yu Rueger, associate professor of communication Dr. Read Schuchardt and director of the Hastert Center for economics, government and public policy Captain David Iglesias. The panel grappled with numerous questions ranging from the importance of embracing Christ-centered diversity to the complexities of developing one’s own cultural identity. A common theme throughout the discussion was the importance of approaching cross-cultural engagement with a sense of humility and respect, realizing that, as Hill pointed out, just because something is “different” does not mean that it is “deficient.” Schuchardt also posed the challenge of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone in order to truly respect and relate to those who come from differing socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
Last year, 481 undergraduate students of color were enrolled at Wheaton College, comprising slightly under 20 percent of the student body population. This represents a 70 percent increase in the number of undergraduate students of color enrolled at Wheaton from 10 years prior. However, President Philip Ryken publicly acknowledged that Wheaton continues to face challenges in making racial reconciliation a priority. Commending Ryken’s attention to racial issues at Wheaton, Folch pointed out: “The challenge is that change like this doesn’t just come from the top down. Change like this needs to come from the bottom up and from the heart outward.” Dr. Folch went on to note that “(Racial reconciliation) is actually a question of growth and willingness to stick in a journey for a long period of time.” Under the directorship of Wheaton alum Rodney Sisco ’84, the Wheaton College Office of Multicultural Development continues to play an integral role in addressing these challenges ‘from the bottom up and from the heart outward.’ Izzy Smith, president of the OMD’s William Osborne Society, explained that OMD has a two-fold mission: “Providing safety and shelter for diversity issues to be discussed and engaged with and providing the insight and the opportunity for students who are of one of the majority cultures to be able to step out of their comfort zone and, in a sense, step into our world.” Through hosting a variety of social events and community service opportunities, Willie-O strives to fulfill its four-fold vision of “play, learn, serve and worship.” In addition to Willie-O, the OMD consists of Koinonia, Unidad Cristiana, Gospel Choir, Mu Kappa and the 1-2-1 Program.
The OMD’s “Ignite” sessions serve as a forum for all members of the Wheaton community to discuss and learn about issues surrounding race, cultural identity and discrimination, as well as to foster an environment of understanding and reconciliation. As Kim noted in his closing remarks: “At the end of the day we’re all made from God’s breath.” Iglesias summed up the importance of the evening’s topic, stating; “When we have people who are culturally, racially and linguistically sensitive, I think that can only advance Christ’s kingdom.”