Input on Cultural Connections updates is mixed



Despite various e-mails announcing a series of panels last week for students to discuss their reactions to changes in the Cultural Connections program, the three meetings drew only a few students in total.

Assistant deans Saveena Dhall, Rosalinda Garcia and Pamela George — who direct the four cultural centers on campus — hoped to discuss and receive suggestions from students about logistical concerns in the wake of an announcement late last month that Cultural Connections would open to all incoming freshmen beginning with the class of 2008. The week-long orientation program was formerly limited to minority students.

Concerns include finding a way to include non-minorities during the part of the program when attendees meet with their ethnic counselors, tweaking the selection process in anticipation of a larger applicant pool, and adjusting the $10 attendance fee so students who want to attend the relatively small program are not prevented from doing so by minimally-interested students who are attracted by the low price, Garcia said.

Dhall, Garcia and George sent an e-mail to cultural group and cultural center lists inviting students to meet with the deans over lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday or dinner on Thursday. Dhall directs the Asian-American Cultural Center; Garcia, the Latino and Native-American cultural centers; and George, the Afro-American Cultural Center. Combined, only about five students attended or briefly stopped by the meetings.

Kiana Jamison ’05, who attended the Cultural Connections program as an incoming freshman, said she could not attend any of the meetings because of their proximity to spring break. But she was under the impression that people had come to the panels, she said.

“I’m sure it was a time issue,” Jamison said. “I think it was just bad timing; I’m hoping it was bad timing, at least.”

Jamison said she thinks the changes will bring both positives and negatives.

“In a sense, I feel like the changes could be a detriment to the program because the panels and activities aren’t designed for non-minorities,” Jamison said. “But it could definitely be a useful learning experience. Maybe now it could take on a new goal; this could be good.”

Another former Cultural Connections participant, Mailinh Vu ’05, said she could not attend the meetings because she was busy. She said she feels ambivalent about the changes.

“I don’t know exactly what the new program would entail,” Vu said. “I think the program is good because it introduces people to what they’re about to enter into. A lot of these people came from different backgrounds and some might not have been assimilated to cultures with a lot of white people, so they might not feel comfortable at first.”

Jamison said she is trying to “stay optimistic” about the changes because she considers them non-negotiable.

“Times are changing, and you have to change with them,” she said.

Stephanie Donald ’05, who attended and later served as an aide in the program, speculated that students did not attend the panels because the impact of the changes — whether good or bad — is yet to be determined.

“I think that we just have to wait and see if non-minorities actually sign up for the programs,” Donald said. “It’s just like the cultural houses — they’re open to non-minorities, but non-minorities don’t really go.”

Donald said she thinks the panel may have been poorly attended because students are resigned to the change.

“It was a chance to vent frustration, but venting only gets you so far,” Donald said. “The change has been made, and I think people are just accepting it. Going to a meeting and venting won’t change anything.”

Dhall, Garcia and George have created an e-mail account that they hope students will use to express their opinions about the change in Cultural Connections. In addition, Dean Garcia said the cultural houses will probably schedule more meetings for students to voice their concerns about changes to the program.

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