History of the OMA
From roots that started in the 1980’s, Grand Valley’s Office of Multicultural Affairs has grown in both size and services offered to meet the needs of countless students.
Now housed in the new addition of the Kirkhof Center on Grand Valley’s Allendale Campus, OMA staff members serve students through academic and social programs and serve the community by hosting events that focus on fostering a climate of inclusiveness on campus.
When it was established in 1988, the department’s roots were in the Seidman School of Business, growing from ideas and concepts by Earl Harper and others. Then called Minority Affairs the Multicultural Center, the department was led by Don Williams Sr., who was director of the Minority Business Education Center. Williams said he was given a simple, yet daunting, charge from Grand Valley’s president: create a department that would help students of color feel more comfortable on campus and help them succeed in college. While its configuration has changed and its mission broadened, the foundation of its early beginnings remain at the heart of OMA’s mission.
Williams spent those early years establishing a presence for the new office on campus. As dean of Minority Affairs and the Multicultural Center, he had access to leaders in academic departments and student services. He expanded the successful Minority (now Multicultural) Business Education Cohort program, which provides professional, academic and social support to business majors, and establishes similar cohorts for students majoring in teacher education and the sciences. Since the inception of the M programs (MBEC, MTEC for teacher education, MSEC for science education and MHEC for higher education), thousands of students have received tutoring services, networked with community professionals and performed community service. They also graduated in larger numbers and in shorter periods of time.
In 1994, Williams coordinated the first of several successful “Blues on the Banks of the Grand” concerts. Performing that year and for many more years in a row was jazz singer Joyce Cobb of Memphis, Tennessee. That first concert raised $65,000 for minority student scholarships. By 2001, the fund had grown to $703,000. Before retiring in December 2001, he raised an additional $310,000 in new pledges.
The University recognized William’s efforts at his retirement. Then President Mark A. Murray announced that Grand Valley would contribute funds to raise the minority scholarship endowment to more than $1 million. “Dean Donald Williams has helped countless students graduate from college,” Murray said at the time. “In some cases, these graduate are young men and women who might not have succeeded had they not had a mentor like Don Williams.” Murray’s statement acknowledged the relationship Williams had built with students, business leaders and GVSU faculty and staff members.
Williams set the foundation for OMA and, upon William’s retirement, Mike Woods built the next level. Woods had been Grand Valley’s affirmative action officer and university administrators asked him also to assume duties as multicultural director. He continued and expanded programming and outreach efforts to campus departments that served women, students with disabilities and the LGBT community. Woods also expanded OMA’s staff, hiring staff members with ethnic backgrounds that mirrored the student population.
Woods also saw the need to develop a database to evaluate the success of students who participated in the M programs. He divided lower- and upper-level classes of M Students, allowing participants to receive more individual attention. He also furthered the ideas behind Freshman Academy, which began as academic support for students of color who struggled in science and math courses and has now developed into a program housed jointly in OMA and the Advising Resource Center.
Woods retired in 2003 and was replaced by Oliver Wilson. Wilson continued to build on the solid foundation of OMA to create an intercultural department. Wilson and OMA staff members have created the Professionals of Color Lecture Series, bringing national speakers to campus who share their stories of career success or triumph over personal adversity.
OMA also reaches the community. Through the Wade H. McCree Jr. Incentive Program, participating high school students in Grand Rapids, Holland, and Muskegon have opportunities to enhance their academic skills and prepare for college.
Through programs for high school students, and services and events geared towards the university community, OMA continues to meet its mission that began two decades ago. “There are rising issues and challenges that we see campuses across the country is facing,” Wilson said. “We want to do our part and educate students about how to have civil discussions. Hopefully they will leave Grand Valley with a better appreciation for diverse perspectives and people, as they enhance their critical thinking skills.”