At UNC-Chapel Hill’s Aquarium Lounge, first year students are as wide-eyed as the brightly hued fish in the giant tank behind them. Numerous departments and organizations are present during these summertime orientation days, offering a bounty of resources and swag for Carolina’s newest cohort. It can be hard to choose where to begin, but many students – and their parents – make a beeline for the Diversity & Multicultural Affairs table.
Often, they are unsure about whether DMA is a student organization or a department – and how it supports students. DMA student staffers Justin Williford and Brittany Grant, both rising juniors, happily clarify and launch into a list of the many programs under its purview. “People are surprised about the number of programs we offer,” notes Justin. “I’ve had some shocked looks when I tell them that we more or less have a program going on every day during Latinx Heritage Month or when I tell them all that we offer during January for our MLK festivities. Some of them are just happy to see a familiar organization, having participated in Project Uplift and now having committed to Carolina.”
Indeed, the amount of resources provided by DMA is impressive. “There isn’t a single definition of what our office is. DMA encompasses a multitude of values, ideas, events, people, etc. so we try our hardest to make sure that what we tell the students represents the office in the best way possible,” notes Brittany. “Although most students immediately recognize Carolina Latinx Collaborative, CHISPA and ACE, they’ll pick up our brochure (along with freebie pens and sanitizers) and many are surprised to find out how connected DMA is with other departments and organizations on campus. Even if they aren’t interested in working directly for the office, they express a great desire to get involved with the various organizations associated with DMA, like MLK celebrations, CLC, Decision Day, etc.”
Student reactions are a mixture of relief and intrigue. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here today,” said a student from Charlotte. “I was impressed by how many opportunities there are just from this one [department]. Everyone was really friendly and made me feel welcome.”
The first years connect particularly well with Brittany and Justin, who stood on the student side of the table just two years prior. “Orientation is two full grueling days, so most students are really tired,” says Justin. “I’ve spoken to a few of them about that – how after orientation, I wondered if Carolina was going to be for me because it all just felt like too much. Several of them noted that this resonated with them.”
Visitors on Orientation Day are escorted on a timed schedule, with new groups arriving every 15-20 minutes, so the pace doesn’t let up…but Brittany’s and Justin’s energy levels don’t flag for a moment. A student approaches, asking about the benefits of participating in ACE (Achieving Carolina Excellence), the first-year early move-in and networking opportunity for underrepresented students. Justin gives him a summary of the program, explaining that it’s a chance to get acclimated with Carolina before the hustle and bustle around first day of classes.
He then talks about how much fun he has being on campus two to three weeks early for RA training. “My absolute favorite time to be on this campus is when it’s not as busy,” he says. “You get all of Carolina’s beauty and legacy to yourself and a handful of others. Some of the best friendships I’ve made at Carolina came out of the intensive two week trainings we had, and the work together that came to follow. ACE will be a similar experience and, through the program, you’ll likely make friends to last your entire college career.”
Enthused and inspired, the student shakes Justin’s hand, ready to join the Carolina community as a full-fledged, participating member. As he moves on to the next table, brochure in hand, Justin smiles. “It’s so surreal to see someone get so engaged in these dialogues. It’s good to know I can make a positive impact. And you never know – that same kid can wind up working with me at DMA one day.”
– by Adrianne Gibilisco