Since her freshman year, Patience Marks ’15 has called the Office of AHANA Student Programs her “home away from home.” When Marks and her fellow students return to campus this fall though, they’ll find that Boston College’s hub for multicultural programs and services has moved from its longtime offices at 72 College Road to Maloney Hall, where it will now be known as the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center.
The move and name change reflect the AHANA office’s expanding mission and its higher profile on an increasingly diverse university campus. It also honors the legacy of Sr. Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., a Ph.D. in English language, literature, and linguistics and the first African-American woman to receive an honorary doctorate of theology from Boston College. Bowman, who died in 1990, was known for working with children to raise their awareness of their cultural heritage through song, dance, poetry, drama, and story. She traveled extensively, speaking about the importance of cross-cultural collaboration in both education and daily life.
“[Bowman’s] work brought together people who were different to learn from each other,” says Inés Maturana Sendoya, director of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center. “We look to her as our inspiration.”
The term “AHANA” was coined in 1979 by two Boston College students to describe individuals of African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent, a group that comprised 6.75 percent of the overall student population. Ten years later, when Bowman received her honorary Boston College degree, AHANA students made up 16.5 percent of Boston College’s student body. Today, close to 32 percent of undergraduates identify as AHANA, multiracial, or multicultural notes Katherine O’Dair, associate vice president for Student Affairs. With that in mind, the center has expanded its mission: in addition to serving a greater number of students, it is leading an effort to increase cultural competence across the broader Boston College community. By offering more programs for all students, says O’Dair, “the center will set the pace for what an intercultural center can be on a college campus.”
The move is a big step toward this goal, she says. Unlike the converted home on College Road at the edge of Upper Campus it occupied for years, the new center is one of several designed specifically for student activities—and as places to hang out between classes—in Maloney Hall, a building that serves as a gateway between Lower and Middle Campus.
Each year, some 700 students regularly use the AHANA office services, says Sendoya. Many of the center’s programs are focused on helping students develop their cultural, racial, and ethnic identities, she says, as well as providing academic and career counseling, financial assistance, and a supportive community.
Patience Marks, a nursing major, first got involved the summer before her freshman year, when she took part in the center’s Options Through Education Transitional Summer Program (OTE), a six-week session for a select group of diverse students who have demonstrated potential for leadership despite difficult educational and financial circumstances. She also participates in the Benjamin E. Mays Mentoring Program for AHANA students.
Her involvement with the center has “taught me that my success is limitless,” says Marks, who received the University’s 2014 Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholarship. “It’s helped me academically, socially, and financially, and it’s shown me that people thrive in communities where they can see others who are similar to them improving and becoming successful.”
Francisco Bernard ’15, who also launched his Boston College career at Options Through Education, went on to participate in the center’s SANKOFA Leadership Program, a yearlong initiative open to freshman and sophomore male students. The experience, Bernard says, helped him evolve from being “a lost boy wandering aimlessly around campus” to president of the Organization of Latin American Affairs and a leader in several other student groups by his junior year. He also credits his involvement with the center’s Hispanic Heritage Month planning committee and Dialogues on Race, a six-week seminar on race, racism, and diversity, with “[allowing] me to look into myself as a Latino and identify very strongly with my culture but also to better understand the cultures of others.”
Fostering this type of self-reflection campus-wide is a goal of the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Center, says O’Dair. The office last year piloted several new programs designed to build cultural competence for the larger Boston College community, including 13 Campus of Difference workshops—diversity and anti-bias education seminars developed by the Anti-Defamation League—and two R.I.D.E. (Racial Identity Development Experience) retreats.
Maggie Shepard ’16 enrolled in Journey to Racial Justice Advocacy, a one-credit, discussion-based seminar designed to help students gain a deeper understanding of the social structures that allow racism to persist. In particular, says Shepard, the course gave her concrete tools to respond to casual bigotry and to speak about race and inequality with others. “It made me realize that when we avoid these discussions, we become part of the problem,” she says.
The goal of training in cultural competence, says O’Dair, is to help students to examine social justice through the lenses of equality, ethnicity, and race and to work with diverse cultures and groups.
Marks, too, believes an extended role for the center will improve the educational environment for all students. Echoing the philosophy of Bowman, she says, “There is so much more education to be had when we learn from each other.”
By Alicia Potter