This month, Chapman University is opening the doors of the Cross-Cultural Center. This is an important milestone for Chapman as we continue to strive towards a more diverse and inclusive campus. While we still have a lot of work to do, we hope the opportunities and programming that will take place in the new center will create a better Chapman experience for our students as well as bring back alumni to share their experiences with the next generation.

It was the passion for diversity and inclusion of so many members of the Chapman Family that laid the groundwork that made the center possible. Each milestone that Chapman reaches is not the work of one person or one group. It is the collective efforts of students, alumni, staff, and faculty who are dedicated to creating a welcoming campus for all people. Today, we celebrate just a few of our alumni and thank them for their passion and energy towards a better Chapman by sharing their story.

To share your story or for information on how to get involved with the Cross-Cultural Center as an alumnus, contact Beth Hofeldt ’08 (M.A. ’14), Manager of Alumni Engagement.

Claire Richardson ’06

While at Chapman, I was an active participant in the GLBTQ group that eventually took on the name “Queer Straight Alliance.” I thrived on the diversity and inclusion encouraged in the group. I was initially part of the straight contingent until I came out during my Junior year. It was the support of this group, as well as the Disciples on Campus community, that helped me feel safe and secure enough to risk being my whole self. However, I fumbled in my ability to promote cultural awareness. I was jealous of those who spoke and fought fearlessly for racial equality, but I could not get over my fears of being misunderstood, unintentionally offensive, or wrong.

I see a Cross-Cultural Center as a safe space to risk being our whole selves. Perhaps if there had been an intentional space for Cross-Cultural events while I was a student, I could have traversed through my fears and been louder in my support of racial equality. Having a safe space to attempt to articulate our truths, experiences, and dreams would have not only allowed me to blossom, but more importantly, it would have provided me the opportunity to listen to others.

With my lens being white, cis, queer, 32-year-old woman, I have an overwhelming belief that, at this precise moment in history, marginalized groups are living in fear and being threatened by those in power, (both politically and socially). Yet, at the same time, those in power are living in fear of their power being taken away. Unfortunately, it seems to me that fear binds us all. How can that fear connect us? How do we utilize the fear to empower and enliven us towards equality and justice? And what will be left to bind us once that fear is dismantled? We have a lot of work to do, and a Cross-Cultural Center will be a creative, enriching, encouraging place to do that work.

Cortney Johnson ’10

In my time at Chapman University I was involved with The Tunnel of Oppression, Vagina Monologues, Queer Straight Alliance, Safe Space, Next Step Social Justice Retreat, I was a Resident Adviser, and produced The Laramie Project on campus. These experiences were incredibly formative for me, the programming I did and connections I made working towards creating a more socially just campus primed me for the career I now have as a social justice educator. Being involved in these co-curricular programs provided me the support I needed to not only graduate from Chapman, but to pursue a Master’s degree in education and now a PhD. I am truly grateful for the community I was a part of at Chapman and without the powerful relationships I made while doing this work I would not be who I am today.

Establishing a Cross-Cultural Center means that Chapman values the voices and stories of marginalized people. This is an acknowledgment that people are valued differently in our world and society and that Chapman is now taking steps within its infrastructure to equalize that value and work towards justice.

As a queer, low income, white, woman, who is a first generation college student, there were many barriers that I faced at Chapman. I often felt very distant from classmates who, to me, seemed to have no financial issues and never felt out of place. However, once I found people I could connect with and found people who had similar experiences to me, and who taught me how to see the world in a way that made sense–I truly felt at home. Although we seemed like a very small army at the time, I could not be happier that these efforts have grown over the past 7 years to create a space for people to hopefully find community, solidarity, and build coalitions. Thank you to everyone who made social justice work a part of their college experience and live that justice in their lives every day.

Ria Sakraney ’10

Chapman holds a very special place in my heart. I learnt a lot during my time there and especially in terms of diversity and inclusion. I’ve written a few thoughts that came to mind. Feel free to edit and use what you like! Apologies for grammatical errors, I only had a few minutes to type this up!

My first few months at Chapman were a struggle. I felt there was a really a lack of support for international students and overall didn’t feel like the university was prepared, and I wasn’t either. I didn’t feel like my roommates were respectful to me coming from a completely different country and didn’t know who to share this information with.

That being said, as soon as I told the resident life office of the problems I was facing, they went all lengths to help me. I changed roommates and was able to start taking advantage of all Chapman had to offer. I worked with Susan Sams at international student services to help develop the international students orientation program. I then moved on to work at the admissions office as the point of contact for prospective international students. And during my last year at Chapman, I worked with Erin Pullin as a program coordinator for diversity and equity.

Having the cross-cultural center would allow international students facing issues similar to the ones I faced to feel like they have a support system with mentors to guide them through the transition process, not just during the week of orientation but throughout the semester. I remember the feeling of walking into my first math class and realizing I was the only person of colour in the room! The cross cultural center will create a much needed safe space for students to share and express their feelings when facing difficult situations during their transition, and a space to celebrate diversity!

Jessie Squires

I was a Peace Studies major at Chapman University so issues of diversity, inclusion, and cultural awareness were very much on my mind both in my studies and in my life on campus. I was also a member of the Black Student’s Union with my roommate and enjoyed hearing stories from my fellow students, engaging in topical discussions, and investigating ways to bring more cultural awareness to Chapman’s campus. However, it was my involvement with S.P.E.A.K. (Students for Peaceful Empowerment, Action, and Knowledge) that lead me to the efforts to get a Cross-Cultural Center on campus. In our S.P.E.A.K. meetings, we discussed issues of diversity and inclusion on campus, collaborated to develop the best methods to address those issues, and canvased, organized, and put on events and demonstrations to bring more awareness to those issues.

A Cross-Cultural Center to me means that students from underrepresented and/or marginalized groups will have a safe space where they can socialize and share their experiences on campus. It also means a place where all students can come together and participate in activities or just meet and, in their interactions, bring more cultural awareness to campus. Additionally, a Cross-Cultural Center to me means that Chapman is acknowledging the demographics of its community, state, and country and values the growing diversity of its student population and their families.

I would tell students who identify with a marginalized group to find a student group on campus to get involved with, and if there is not a group that meets their needs, then to start one. Once you put your voice out there, you may see other students from the same or different marginalized groups who are also seeking ways to get involved on campus. I would also encourage them to share their stories and experiences with their roommate(s), classmates, and friends. Respect is the key to cultural understanding and the first step towards gaining mutual respect is relationships. Connect with as many like-minded people as you can and, through those efforts, I guarantee others who were not like-minded previously will notice and want to be a part of what you are doing.