How the OMD creates space for learning and empowerment
By Piper Curda
To many students at Wheaton, the Office of Multicultural Development has always been known by its snappy acronym (OMD) and its home in Lower Beamer across from the Office of Christian Outreach (OCO) and next door to the Student Activities Office (SAO). However, the OMD has only occupied in its current space since 2013 and the office itself was not always known as the OMD. Since its beginnings in the 1970s, the OMD went through multiple name changes such as Office of Minority Affairs, Office of Minority Student Development and Office of Multicultural Student Development before finally landing on the Office of Multicultural Development.
espite this mild external identity crisis, the OMD has always upheld its main goal of “being a home for students of color, a resource for ethnic minority students who want to learn more about Christ-centered diversity and an encouragement to the college to cultivate Christian unity that values and celebrates ethnic and cultural diversity.”
The OMD is also home to multiple student-led organizations such as Koinonia, the William Osborne Society, Unidad Christiana, Shalom Community and more that are aimed toward unifying and celebrating people of varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Senior Gabidel Miranda, the President of Unidad Christiana (the Latinx student group on campus), agreed, saying, “It’s a place where I feel the most welcome on campus. Since freshman year, it’s a place where I’ve been going for respite.” The OMD, is a space that welcomes questions and conversations about topics otherwise difficult to discuss in Wheaton’s larger community.
“It’s always been a place where it gets the gears turning,” Miranda told the Record. “In topics of race, I’ve had a lot of feelings,” she continued, “and having these conversations in the OMD has been a new language to help [me] put a name to feelings or things that I’ve been seeing.” Senior Ziyu Gu, the current President of Koinonia (the Asian/Asian American student group on campus), also noted the reality of apathy that many people in the OMD face: “I think it’s hard for any organization … to make people who don’t care, care.” While this challenge may exist, it’s what the OMD equips students to address.
A common misconception Wheaton students may have is that the OMD is exclusively a space for students of color. However, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, the location change to Lower Beamer was motivated in part by a desire to become more accessible to all students who may wander in for a cup of coffee or good conversations. “It’s definitely a friendly space for the Caucasian students here to explore diversity and racial and ethnic relations and issues,” Gu said. The OMD holds many events and special activities, often hosted by a student groups that are open to anyone who wants to join. Events include movie nights, Q&A panels and special lectures. No matter the occasion, the OMD seeks not only to be welcoming to all but also to empower students.
“For a lot of students [the OMD] is not only a place of belonging but also a platform for empowerment,” Gu said. Gu has been a part of Koinonia since her freshman year and admits she found it confusing at first. As an international student from China, Gu found there was a dichotomy between international Asians and Asian Americans and the types of struggles they each faced. “Being in Koinonia was really helpful to understand a lot of racial relations … it’s that living together and learning and sharing differences and similarities that really make OMD special.” Miranda feels this empowerment has been exemplified by an increased interest in leadership positions from those who are part of the OMD. “In the past year or two, I’ve seen a lot of … people from the OMD branching out and applying to positions outside the OMD,” Miranda reflected. Gu concurred, describing the OMD as “a place where minority students feel safe and comfortable to go into, but not necessarily always stay.”
This balance between push and pull is precisely what the late Director of the OMD, Rodney Sisco, wanted to achieve through his work there. “Part of being the body of Christ is that we understand what grace is,” Sisco once said. “We’re preparing young men and women to know how to address that outside of Wheaton — how to be people who are able to engage with difference and conflict [in a manner] that still says we’re doing it as men and women of God.”