Director Frederick Smith and students and staff from the Cross Cultural Centers work to create a supportive, diverse and unified environment where students can learn about themselves and others.
Many students see college as a way to discover or develop a passion that will lead toward a career. But finding’s one path isn’t solely academic jargon at Cal State L.A. Discovering one’s individuality can be just as important.
The Cross Cultural Centers in the University-Student Union helps with that by encouraging student learning and fostering an inclusive environment. It does that by challenging discrimination such as racism or sexism while embracing a learning environment that values diversity.
“People do need to know and understand who they are, whether it’s in terms of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc., to understand and get real about who they are, what their labels are, getting rid of some of those shame issues, or ways that maybe they were made to feel bad about who they are,” said Frederick Smith, director of the Cross Cultural Centers. “And once people are grounded in their own self-identity, then I think there comes that comfort level.”
The layout of the Cross Cultural Centers (CCC) itself is intended to promote unity and cooperation with space to study, relax and engage in conversation, but also a place with practical needs, like a refrigerator, microwaves and comfy couches. On the second floor of the University-Student Union, students can find the four centers that make up the CCC — resource centers for Gender & Sexuality, Pan African Students, Chicana/o Latina/o Students and Asian Pacific Islander Students.
The CCC helps to further promote understanding and unity on campus through its events, lectures, film screenings, musical performances, panel discussions and conferences that students might find as “meaningful to their lives,” says Smith.
Faculty and on-campus groups are frequent event co-sponsors for programs such as the annual Race Forum, “Do Race and Gender (Still) Matter?” ChorSwang Ngin, an anthropology professor and one of the Race Forum’s founders, said the event was created after President Barack Obama’s election to address topics of race and gender in America today.
“In the history of racism in America, we’ve been trying to overcome discrimination — discrimination against minorities, homosexuals, against ageism, sexism and all those issues,” Ngin said, regarding the notion of “post-racial” America. “Beyond that is (asking questions like) ‘what do you do? How do we work? What kind of common ground do we have? What kind of community do we have? Can we work together — all of us as students, as employees and employers in the same community? Can we all live together as neighbors?’”
Participation has its benefits, Smith notes, “It’s really yielded a lot of student leaders on campus who’ve gone on to lead student organizations, get involved with student government, or who just become more active and out of their shells.”
Criminal justice major Hector Escobar, for example, has been participating in Cross Cultural Centers events since he started classes at Cal State L.A.
“Diversity is important because we don’t want to seem that we’re divided just because of our cultures,” said Escobar, who wants to be a police officer after graduation. “And so if you want a society that works as a team, you want to diversify so that individuals can understand other cultures, background, and ethnicity. And from there, stop the negative stereotyping, and work in a progressive area where you understand where they come from. By not approaching things in a negative way, you can work together in improving the community.”