Before she became Assistant Director of the Multicultural Center for UA Little Rock, Lauren Wilson was an undergraduate student at the University of Arkansas. She knows what college life is like for students of color at a school that lacks diversity, and that is what drives her in the improvements she is bringing here.
Wilson appreciates that UA Little Rock is diverse, but no university is perfect.
“The Multicultural Center is important not only to provide programs and safe spaces for students of color who haven’t found a place on campus yet,” Wilson said. “But it also provides educational programming to teach about other cultures. Come learn something you didn’t learn before, come meet someone with a different perspective… We don’t just provide support, but also education to engage people [to meet peers] they wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
As an undergraduate at Fayetteville, Ark., Wilson participated in mentor programs and valued connecting with others. The program there paired freshmen with upperclassmen and allowed students who endured similar experiences and practiced similar cultures to automatically connect.
“Everything came full circle,” Wilson said, as she has been working to improve SADI or the Student Affairs Diversity Initiatives, to make the program more successful and able to help more people.
“I learned I had a passion for mentoring as a graduate student and as a teacher,” Wilson said. “Forming mentor relationships with students came naturally, so that revitalizes SADI. I hope to provide similar experiences [that I had] to UA Little Rock students.”
Wilson taught 10th grade English after receiving her undergraduate degree, then came to UA Little Rock to work in higher education at the Ottenheimer Library as a student support and training specialist. Wilson helped students, faculty and staff learn about the services and technology that the library provides.
Wilson was not aware that she could finish her graduate degree here until she connected with the graduate department and learned that her credits from a previous graduate program would transfer.
That’s when she met Dr. Mia Phillips, who had just started working as the director of the Multicultural Center. Wilson became her graduate assistant and the rest is history.
“I [have been] really fortunate to connect with the people at UA Little Rock, and that’s why I was drawn to stay here,” Wilson said.
She knew after being a graduate assistant in the Multicultural Center that it was the perfect area of higher education for her to work in. She started full time in her current position in December of 2020.
Wilson recommends that students get involved in “everything on campus, but definitely SADI.”
SADI partners a freshman student with both an upperclassman mentor and a professional mentor, as well as Wilson herself. That way, every student has a support group behind their endeavors, not just one person.
“The goal of SADI is to provide students with a team,” Wilson said. “We let them know about events and opportunities, and they have a community even though we haven’t gathered in person. We see the same faces and names virtually… It [creates] a space where you know that you have folks you can reach out to if you’re struggling.”
The Multicultural Center also hosts “First Fridays.” These sessions are currently being held over Zoom on the first Friday of every month, and they are open for anyone to attend. They will be in person at the Multicultural Center on the second floor of the Ottenheimer Library once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted on campus.
“First Fridays” often have a theme, from mental health to how to become a resident assistant.
“We get UA Little Rock faculty and staff to speak on topics they are familiar with,” Wilson said.
First Fridays are more than educational. They are a space for regular conversations where students can discuss their feelings.
“We provide a space for people to get things off their chest,” she said.
The Multicultural Center also hosts “Reality Checks,” where students learn about life skills from financial literacy to self-care. This programming takes place on the third Thursday of each month.
The Multicultural Center recently hosted Black History Month activities in February and is hosting Diversity Month activities during the month of March.
“I [am] so happy to collaborate with students, faculty, and staff to put forth the effort for amazing programming,” Wilson said. “We started meeting back in December 2020 to pull together different departments and student organizations, and we’ve been hearing some really awesome feedback.”
SADI student mentors Kayla Maxwell and Lakendra Mackey value what the Multicultural Center has added to their college experience.
“What I can tell from this first semester working with my group is that they will provide an amazing, unconditional support team [to each other],” Maxwell said. “I feel so comfortable with the staff and other mentors being open about my college experience. I know that this is the start of a lifelong relationship.”
Both mentors have been checking in with their mentees virtually.
“Like many things during the time of COVID-19, this has taught me how to connect with people from afar,” Maxwell said. “I have never met any of my mentees in person, but when I first introduced myself, I was open [about] who I am and what I like to do. It has taught me to expand my horizons and not be afraid to open up.”
Mackey was pleasantly surprised at the tasks that being a SADI mentor entailed.
“I became a mentor because I thought it would be easy… but it’s not like that at all. I am worried about my mentees when they reach out to me [with] something bothering them,” Mackey said. “I am deeply invested in them having a good college experience. I don’t want them to drop out for any reasons that could have an easy solution that they might not see.”
While they are both helping their mentees, the Multicultural Center and Lauren Wilson are helping them.
“Ms. Lauren Wilson kept me in touch with reality… the whole Multicultural Center has continually encouraged and cheered me on during this pandemic,” Mackey said. “I was able to walk out in faith, knowing that I would have genuine support regardless of the outcome. Even when I am no longer a student here, I feel that people I encounter will always be rooting for me, and I will be for them.”
Both students recommend that others get involved.
“When I saw the opportunity to join the team that Ms. Wilson was heading, I took a leap of faith and started something new despite my nerves and it was honestly a great decision that I don’t regret one bit,” Maxwell said. “I am not afraid to get out and do more on campus. I believe the Multicultural Center had a lot to do with that.”
Mackey is proud of how many different groups of students can interact through the Multicultural Center.
“The point is, we have workshops that make us all interact, connect, and make lasting friendships,” Mackey said. “I can see how someone from a different culture feels about a topic that does not seem important to me but is to them. It can open my eyes to their plight.”
More information about the Multicultural Center can be found on their social media pages, @UALRMC on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. They are also hoping to develop a TikTok in the near future.
“We are here for all students, reach out and let us know how we can help you,” Wilson encouraged. “If we need to connect you with other departments, [we can]. We have a nice physical space that people can come into… Holla at us! We can find someone to talk to you.”