The Office of Multicultural Development (OMD) will soon occupy a newly designed office space in Lower Beamer. Currently located in the Student Services Building, OMD hopes the new location will give the office more visibility and natural integration into student life to foster cooperation with other student-focused offices like the Student Activities Office (SAO) and the Office of Christian Outreach (OCO).
“The time is right to bring OMD into the heart of student life,” said President Philip Ryken in an email.
Since its inception in 2003, the Beamer Center has had high amounts of student traffic and was referred to as the “campus living room” by Paul Chelsen, the vice president of student development.
OMD’s move to Lower Beamer will help the organization tap into that community, allowing it to grow in its work for the student body.
Steve Ivester, Student Activities Director, said, “I think the benefits will be the visibility, the accessibility, the value that real estate in this building provides. So I get excited about the future of what that means for collaboration in terms of OCO, OMD and SAO … and the synergy that will result from the students being able to come and go and access each other’s offices.”
Rodney Sisco, Director of OMD, expressed another advantage of the office being moved from the Student Services Building.
“Where we are located here is one of those best kept secrets … but the reality is that for most students this is not the hallway that you are just going to hang out in. Lower Beamer is a hallway that people just walk in,” Sisco said. “To be in that type of context, it allows us to be able to step into the lives of other students, interface with students that I may not necessarily interface with now.”
The collaboration and visibility will also have an impact on programming between the offices. “I envision us being more thoughtful and integrated in our programs and more reflective of diverse opinions and interests in what we do just because of the relationships that we can facilitate by sharing space,” Ivester said.
Senior Daniel Cortez, president of Unidad Cristiana, commented on how the new OMD office space will affect student clubs.
“I think that space is important for any community… so having a space, a bigger space for OMD, I think it’s important for that part of the community.” Cortez also expressed that the location will increase student interactions. “Here in Lower Beamer, people just walking by will realize that it’s there, and a lot of interactions won’t be missed that are now.”
The office seeks to interact with all students on campus.
“I think one of the misnomers is that OMD is only for students of color,” Sisco said. “Our primary task is to be the support and encouragement of students of color, but we’re also about supporting ethnic majority students who are saying, ‘I’d like to talk more about Christ-centered diversity.’”
In addition, the new office space will be larger and carefully designed to better fit the needs of the OMD office and the student clubs under its wing.
The office will be located across from the SAO where student publications, including the Tower, Kodon and the Record were once housed. The hallway between the SAO and the former student publications offices will be incorporated into the OMD office, creating a total space of 1,800 square feet, compared to the OMD office’s current floor space of 380 square feet.
The office will feature a reception desk, offices for Sisco and assistant director Eva Ortiz, and an additional office for a potential staff increase. Seven work stations will be provided for student clubs, along with a central meeting table.
Furthermore, one of the most important improvements is the addition of a “hangout” space where students can mingle and interact, something the current OMD office lacks.
Relocation of the OMD office has been an ongoing discussion in the Student Development Office for four years. Changes within the organization of Student Development itself, questions about racial diversity that arose from negative tweets following February 2012’s Rhythm and Praise Chapel and President Ryken’s Strategic Priorities led to solidifying the decision to move to Lower Beamer.
“I started talking about it with the president in earnest, probably in the fall semester of last year,” Chelsen said. “And then in the spring, after chapel tweets, it was pretty clear that we needed to move this as quickly as we could. We conceptually already knew we wanted to do this, so in that sense the ground work was laid.”
Chelsen also explained that the OMD office is no longer large enough to facilitate the number of students seeking its services.
“As the number of students of color has continued to increase over time, I think it’s been pretty clear that the space up here is not adequate,” Chelsen said. “It’s hard to find, and there is not really any good hang out space … so I think it became pretty clear because of student traffic … that we need to think long term.”
In addition, Ryken has released his Strategic Priorities, with one of its key focuses on expanding multicultural development within the Wheaton community.
“When it became clear that deepening ethnic diversity was going to continue to be one of the college’s priorities, that kind of sealed the deal,” Chelsen said. “We need the OMD in a more central location for the students, but really for the whole campus.”
Planning began last spring and continued into the summer of 2012. By the 2012 fall semester, most plans had been finalized, and the campus publications were moved to a suite of three former meeting rooms above the lobby of Coray Gym.
Construction on the OMD office is expected to be completed in July, the intention being to have OMD in Lower Beamer by the next academic year.
“The idea is that this summer is when the construction is going to happen, and OMD, ideally, will be moving about early July,” Chelsen said.
The current project budget is $250,000, according to Bruce Koenigsberg, the campus architect, with the funds coming from the contingency budget or unallocated funds from the 2011-2012 academic year.
The space vacated by OMD will be used by Career Services.
“Career Services is really needing to expand,” Chelsen said.
The campus publications have viewed their new office spaces in a positive light overall.
Senior Abby Long, Editor in Chief of Kodon, said, “I’m personally excited because we have windows. … our old office was just a cell. I think this will be a much better working environment.”
Despite the rapidity of the move to a new space, Long said, “(The architects) were very, very considerate of our needs, and I just appreciated the way that they wanted to hear from each publication specifically what our needs are and then try to meet those.”
Speaking broadly about the project, Ryken said, “Through hard work, careful planning and God’s provision of the needed funds, we have a building solution that advances the mission of the OMD without hindering other student activities.”
Ivester said that the move “fits so well with the president’s strategic priority of deepening ethnic diversity, and I think we can really celebrate this move. It’s really a very historical thing for us at Wheaton. I don’t think multicultural development has had such a significant opportunity at Wheaton as this.”
Photo Credit: Brooke Greene
Printed in the January 25, 2013, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.