Recognizing Multicultural Awareness, Support, and Dialogue as Everyday Needs 

Jun 8, 2020

by Greg Williams
Publications Editor

All across the country, crowds of protesters have gathered to call for change and accountability following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, during his May 25 arrest by members of the Minneapolis Police Department. As daily witnesses to these demonstrations and the emotionally charged actions that accompany them, we are forced to confront longstanding issues of inequality.

“It has been very hard to witness the current events and to be reminded that there are still situations of social injustices plaguing our society,” says Brenda Lewis, director of Florida Southern’s Evett L. Simmons Center for Multicultural Appreciation. “It is very difficult to see.”

Although the campus is now devoid of a student population — and will remain so throughout the summer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — the well-being of new and returning FSC students is at the forefront of Lewis’s thoughts: How are the students feeling, what are they thinking, and what do they need from their school?

Brenda Lewis
Brenda Lewis
Director of the Evett L. Simmons Center for Multicultural Appreciation at Florida Southern College

Those questions, Lewis acknowledges, are difficult to answer.

“As a campus community, we must work together to get through this and let our students and alumni know that we are supportive.”

The current sense of social discord touches each of us differently, depending on our own life experiences, Lewis adds. Making a concerted effort to acknowledge and understand one another’s personal histories and perspectives may be an important key to pursuing a meaningful, change-based dialogue.

Through her determined efforts in the Simmons Center, Lewis and her Multicultural Coordinator, Lauren Outler, will continue to focus on working with students, whether remotely or in person, to promote diversity while providing a grounded foundation of support. Over the years, the Simmons Center has been widely recognized as a home-away-from-home for FSC’s students.

“I wanted, from the very beginning, to make sure that students of color could find their place at Florida Southern College and feel at home,” Lewis says. “But it has to be a campus-wide effort.”

The Simmons Multicultural Center offers leadership and service opportunities that encourage a sense of involvement. Student volunteers regularly assist in the planning and scheduling of various educational programs, cultural awareness efforts, and on-campus entertainment. They work in collaboration with the Multicultural Student Council (MSC) and other campus groups to sponsor programming in recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Hispanic Awareness celebrations, and other diversity-themed events. As part of its mission of support, the Simmons Center also serves as the home for both the MSC and the International Student Association.

Despite the physical distancing that remains a part of our present-day reality, many members of the College community are staying in contact and looking for ways to be productive partners in this crucial moment. Students may not be able to interact in person, “but they’re on social media, back and forth,” Lewis says.

“The Multicultural Student Council got together the other day to put together a picture collage of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and put it on their Instagram account. The president of the MSC, Onose Ijewere, reached out to student government and said, ‘This is what we’d like to do.’”

With the strong support of President Madelyn Walsh of the Student Government Association, Ijewere posted messages on group chats for both of the organizations and quickly found volunteers to hold handmade signs as part of the photo project. “There were eight on the SGA group chat, and four on the MSC chat,” Ijewere said. “My aim in putting the teams together was to let students know that they have a community. They are not alone in this.”

In addition to her position as MSC president, Ijewere is serving in student government as Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion.

“I am so thankful that we have this partnership,” Walsh said. “It provides a new platform and a different outlet for the multicultural initiatives on campus. And I’m so appreciative of Onose for including student government in this initiative. We knew it was the right thing to do, to show our support for the MSC and for the campus community, as well.”

Lewis views this collaborative effort as a good example of what can happen when the College takes its lead from students in determining what they need.