Finding a voice among thousands of other students can be a daunting task, especially when being held back by the limitations society places. The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) gives students an opportunity to become leaders and make a significant impact at Shippensburg University.
Diane Jefferson, Director of MSA, was the visionary behind the organization. Jefferson is a Shippensburg University alumnus who returned to the campus in 1982 as an academic advisor after working at Dickinson College’s Office of Minority Affairs. Although Jefferson enjoyed her position as academic advisor, she believed her abilities were better suited in producing leaders by helping students overcome obstacles and find opportunities to grow, both academically and personally.
Jefferson was passionate about bringing awareness to the importance of working from a multicultural perspective, regardless of the individual’s chosen career path. After discussing the idea with Shippensburg University’s then-President Anthony Ceddia, the Office of Minority Student Affairs was founded in 1989.
The office was originally housed Gilbert Hall, and is still there to this day. MSA’s first student organizations were the African American Organization and the Harmonic Voices of Truth Gospel Choir, which are still part of MSA, today. Following its founding, MSA began to focus on the inclusion of other cultural, ethnic, religious and social minority groups. The office’s name was changed in 1994 to what it is known as today – the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs – to reflect MSA’s continuous evolution.
Among the current MSA student groups are chartered organizations, such as the Latino Student Organization, the Asian American Organization and the Multi-Ethnic Student Association; support groups, such as BROTHERS and DIVAS; leadership development groups, such as PEERS; and arts groups, such as Heritage Dance Company and Virtue Praise & Worship Team. In addition, numerous Greek Organizations are a part of MSA.
Jefferson said that MSA’s primary goal is to improve the retention of its students and that graduation was the ultimate goal for all of its students. The organizations at MSA also promote academic achievement by providing an enriched environment that teaches students to effectively balance their numerous responsibilities as a leader. In commemoration of their academic success, each student receives a sash to wear at graduation to signify his or her academic achievements.
Another goal of MSA is to empower students to become active leaders during their time at Shippensburg University and beyond. MSA is looked at as a “home away from home” to many of its students. The comfortable atmosphere that MSA provides builds character in its students and gradually turns them into leaders. Student leaders at MSA strive to be the best at what they do by consistently learning and improving. One of Jefferson’s favorite quotes is “Mediocrity is not an option.”
Shippensburg University’s website says that students develop self-confidence and assertiveness skills while continuing to “promote diversity and enhance human understanding within the university and surrounding communities.” Students learn to work alongside and lead people of various backgrounds, thus improving their chances of succeeding in the workplace.
According to Jefferson, it is important for all students to learn to “take a risk and build a bridge.” The idea of building a bridge is a frequent them. One of the MSA student organizations is appropriately called Building Bridges. The club meets once a week to participate in discussions regarding various facets of diversity and holds panel discussions in classrooms throughout Shippensburg University to promote diversity and get other students involved in the cause.
Shippensburg University’s website says, “MSA is in the business of building bridges. Not bridges of steel between rivers, but bridges of understanding between people.”
Kapri Brown, a graduate student at Shippensburg University and assistant to the director of MSA, said she discovered who she was as a leader during her years as an undergraduate student. Like many other college freshmen, Brown was not sure where she fit and what her purpose was. MSA helped her find her voice and evolve into the leader she is today. “I would not be where I am today without MSA.”
Jefferson hopes that MSA continues to succeed in its goals. She believes MSA will maintain its current success while continuing to strive for better and improve. “In the future, I hope to see students continuing to set the tone for MSA and Shippensburg University.”