GCU’s new Multicultural Manager walks the talk
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Mathew McGraw
GCU News Bureau
Donald Glenn wants to start the conversation.
With students. Yes, mainly with students.
With faculty. With staff. Anyone at Grand Canyon University.
He has a lot to say, but he’s betting others do, too. And he’s listening.
Glenn is the new Multicultural Manager at the University, and already he is a force for positive communication and change. He loves what GCU is doing to embrace the diversity conversation. He loves that minorities make up nearly half the campus population. And yet there’s much to do.
“This is one of the most diverse spaces that I have ever been in,” said Glenn, sitting in his corner office of the Student Life Building. “When I walk around, it is evident that this place is diverse.
“One of the things that I said to my staff and to co-workers during training is that the University is like a stained-glass window. You have all of these different pieces and parts coming together to make something beautiful. If you look at just one individual piece, it might be beautiful in and of itself because God has created each and every individual in His image and in His likeness.
“But, at the same time, if you zoom out and look at the entire picture, you see different shapes, different sizes, different textures, different colors coming together to make one unique image. That is how I view diversity and multiculturalism. If I can bring that to GCU, that is what I want to bring.”
Glenn says a lot of things like that. He is articulate. He is thoughtful. He is, as Director of Student Engagement Jeremy Mack said, “just a humble person, and how he responds is in grace and kindness.”
“The way he handles students is really helpful because he understands and listens to them and really wants to hear the heart behind where they’re going so he can help them direct them to the right people,” Mack said. “That’s a gift. You can’t teach those things.”
Glenn, who earned his master’s degree in Theology from GCU, is now in the University’s doctoral program. His dissertation topic, appropriately: how a sense of belonging affects student outcomes.
“Students are more successful when they are in a space where they feel they belong,” he said.
That is achieved, he believes, by first understanding the difference between multicolorism and multiculturalism. Multicolorism, he said, is when an institution puts out images that suggest that it has diversity – tries to “check all the boxes” — but actually doesn’t.
“I think about it like a salad – that’s multicolorism. You have the tomatoes, you have the eggs, you have carrots, you have lettuce, but none of those flavors, until you’re chewing it, actually mix together. They are separate entities in one presentation.
“Multicultural is like a soup. You might have tomatoes and potatoes and spices and all these different things, but all those flavors are really coming together and essentially enhancing each other. There’s a difference between checking a box and saying, ‘This is really important to us.’”
Glenn first visited GCU when he came to Commencement to receive the diploma for his master’s degree. His first impression: “It’s an incredible place. It’s like no other space that I have been in. I was literally blown away by everything.”
He was the Multicultural Manager at a small Christian university in the Midwest and would have applied at GCU if there had been a similar position. “It just wasn’t God’s timing,” he said.
But when the position opened up last spring, the timing was right. He had left his job at his university and also his role as pastor of a church to get some needed rest, and he saw the GCU posting as he was preparing for his second doctoral residency.
The decision already had been made to change the name of the office from Diversity to Multicultural, and it’s telling – in light of Glenn’s gift for conversation starters – when Mack explains why the change was made. This suits Glenn to a T for talk:
“Multicultural really brings about a context of conversation whereas diversity brings a lot of difficult scenarios,” Mack said. “We want to have the stance of, ‘Let’s get ahead of it. Let’s have conversations about how we treat each other, what that looks like and how we can understand each other from different platforms,’ versus dealing with the aftermath that often is dealt with in a diversity office.”
Or, as Glenn put it, “When you look at the term ‘diversity office,’ some people look at it as a complaint center.”
Another important change is that the Multicultural Office, managed by 10 students, now reports directly to Glenn. “We’re setting the foundation for multicultural for years to come on this campus,” said the office’s director, senior Basia Beverly.
Also reporting to Glenn is the Multicultural Committee, made up of presidents and vice presidents from various clubs, such as the Latino Student Union, Black Student Union and Hui Aloha Club.
And as soon as Glenn walked in the door, he started a new monthly event on campus: a multicultural day. Each month, a different culture is celebrated – Hispanic Heritage, Italian Heritage, Black History, etc. – which means a lot more chances for conversation.
Glenn believes it comes down to TEB — what we’ve been taught, what we experience and what we believe. The goal is to make it much more than tolerance, a word he doesn’t like to hear.
“I don’t think we should say tolerate each other because that doesn’t say unity. It says, ‘Well, I’m going to be in this because I have to,’ ” he said. “But if we can bring understanding and education, it’s like that TEB thing. Once you begin to understand somebody, it’s like, ‘Oh, I see. Maybe that’s why they have that perspective.’
“My goal is for when people come to our events or participate in any our programs, they walk away with some sort of self-discovery – ‘Well, I never thought about that. I never knew that.’ That’s what I really look for — that education piece – so that when people walk away, they are educated.”
Glenn’s long-range goal? He’d like to be a university president someday, and the more you listen to him, the more you can envision it. His presence was evident way back when he was student body president of his college and was invited to a meeting of nearly 100 college presidents.
His own president told the others that Glenn had great things ahead of him, but added: “He won’t be working for you. He’ll be your president.”
For now, though, Glenn is eager to make the most of his opportunity at GCU – and to see progress across the United States.
“I think diversity work is America’s unfinished business,” he said. “I believe in celebrating what accomplishments we have made, but I believe in telling the truth about the work that’s still to be done. We must look at our own biases – we have to. If we believe in it, we have to act on it.
“You may not always agree, and that is OK.”
As long as there’s a constructive conversation.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].