On Friday, Sept. 17, the International Student Programs (ISP), the Office of Multicultural Development (OMD), and the Intercultural Arts and Media Office (ICAM) hosted their first joint event: a block party.
The Multicultural Block Party, held in the Jenks parking lot, was open to all, but students on the OMD and ISP’s email lists—which includes international students, students of color, missionary kids and third-culture kids, or those who were raised in a culture other than their parents and then have since lived in a different environment—were the guests of honor.
Although the block party was cut short only 45 minutes into the event due to inclement weather, the party organizers and attendees still emphasized that the short event was a success.
The party featured loud pop music, a few food trucks and approximately 150 attendees. Since it was outdoors, many guests were able to remain unmasked. Tables at the party featured international clubs, such as the Desi Club for South Asian students, the Indonesian National Association (1NA) and the Chinese Language and Culture Club (CLACC).
The food truck options included Tropical Shaved Kona Ice, Mae’s Que House and La Humita on Wheels. Mae’s Que House sold BBQ, slow-cooked over a wood fire. La Humita’s menu included Ecuadorian cuisine and other Latin American food. The OMD, ISP, and ICAM offices split the cost of the event as part of their 3-way collaboration, including prepaying for the first 100 snow cones from the Kona Ice food truck.
As partygoers arrived, they signed in with a QR code at the entrance, in case contact tracing was needed. The sign-in also made sure everyone was entered into the raffle drawing for free food tickets, which were counted every 30 minutes.
Olivia Kusuma, a second-year graduate student in the Higher Education and Student Development program and a graduate assistant in the ISP, said that the block party organizers hoped the event would offer multicultural students a chance for fellowship and food in a casual environment.
“The goal [of the party] was to create a space of fellowship while also providing opportunities for students to learn how to get involved in multicultural student organizations and clubs,” Kusuma said. “We also wanted our student leaders to establish connections between cabinets to create room for future collaborations.”
Jerry Woehr ‘08, ‘13, the director of the ISP, said that he hoped the event would encourage more overlap between his department and the OMD. While the ISP supports international students through four student organizations, education, and immigration and visa help, the OMD shelters both culture-based and multi-ethnic organizations created to foster community among students of diverse backgrounds and “address contemporary issues of diversity,” according to their website.
“It’s not just that if you fit in the ISP, you are in the ISP, or if you fit in the OMD you go in the OMD. We want all multicultural students to feel like there are multiple spaces and programs specifically designed for them,” said Woehr.
According to Woehr, another goal of the event was to broaden the definition of a multicultural student by welcoming all who come from multicultural backgrounds, no matter what that background might involve. Some multicultural students are students of color, while others might be multicultural after spending a significant amount of time living in another country. This year, 91 new international students joined campus.
“We wanted to work together on defining multicultural students a little more broadly than sometimes is seen,” said Woehr. “It’s not just students of color, it’s students who have been shaped by multiple colors, multiple countries and multiple languages. So the multicultural block party was designed to include students of color, international students of color, international students, MKs and TCKs.”
Woehr explained that the OMD and ISP offices have wanted to host a collaborative event ever since David Cho became the Director of the OMD in 2019. But with the sudden start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those plans had been on hold until this semester.
“When David Cho became the director, we started meeting together regularly,” said Woehr. “At the end of his first year we had a couple of ideas of some things we wanted to do together, but then COVID hit so we didn’t really get to do a lot. Once we were getting on the other side of the initial COVID restrictions this summer, we started talking about it more seriously and bringing our leadership teams together to plan.”
Cho said that the idea for the block party came out of a desire to celebrate diversity and multicultural fellowship in a fun way.
“A lot of times when we talk about race, it is so serious, right?” he said of the early brainstorming process for the event. “And it needs to be. But can we have something that is dedicated for all multicultural students to gather together in a fun and accessible way?”
Lucy Yang, a senior biology major, was happy to attend the new event. Yang currently serves as the vice-president of Ladder, the one-to-one mentoring cabinet in the ISP which gives first-year international students ways of connecting to and using the other helpful ISP cabinets.
“I think it’s really cool for the [student] leaders of the organizations to get to know each other in a more casual environment,” said Yang.
While it was mostly a nice day beforehand, at around 6:45 p.m. a rainstorm began and drenched attendees. The party had been scheduled to last until 9 but the rain cancelled the party after just 45 minutes. This canceled the dance party and other activities that had been planned for later in the evening.
Kusuma noted that while the sudden rain was unfortunate, it also gave certain attendees an extra chance to bond.
“It was sad [the event was cut short],” Kusuma said. “But it also became a unique bonding time as student leaders worked together to carry tables back in the rain.”
Wheaton College, IL