Project L: Welcome Week’s love letter to diversity

September 02, 2021 / by / 0 Comment
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Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

Nothing brought on more smiles than free hot dogs and hamburgers.

Barbecue it and they will come.

With the aroma of barbecue wafting through the air, hundreds of students lined up from Grove Lawn past Juniper Hall on Wednesday night, eagerly waiting to get into Project L, a twice-a-year icebreaker by Grand Canyon University’s newly renamed Diversity and Inclusion Department.

“It’s our first event of the year and, honestly, I’m SO excited,” said Ajienne Lambey, Assistant Director of the department’s Multicultural Office, as she scoped out the long line, amazed at the spectacular turnout. “I was kind of nervous at first because we’re still pretty new — we’re only 3 years old. Last year was a learning curve for us, so I’m really happy and excited to see so many people thrilled to come out to our event.”

Hundreds of students gathered at the Grove for Project L, a Welcome Week icebreaker event organized by the Diversity and Inclusion Department.

The Welcome Week social on the Grove lawn also featured tables of student vendors selling everything from eyelashes to clothing and Billie Eilish stickers, musical performers, a soccer-kicking and baseball-throwing area, and plenty of information tables manned by students touting the campus’ diversity, from the Philippine American Student Association to the Sexual and Gender Awareness Club.

The event took on a life of its own beyond a mere barbecue as a circle of students formed for a spontaneous game of setting-and-passing-the-volleyball while a student performer on acoustic guitar belted out Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and “Yellow” by Coldplay as a bubble machine pumped festive bubbles into the air.

Beyond the barbecue, Project L (the L stands for Lope) is a chance for the Diversity and Inclusion Department to introduce itself to the GCU community before the launch of the academic year, as students, who recently moved into the campus’ residence halls, take a pause before classes begin on Tuesday.

Students kicked a few soccer balls around at the event.

“It’s kind of to unite the entire student body,” Lambey said, “It’s not centered around one culture but basically to make students aware of our office and new department.”

It also was a chance for students to get connected to one of the clubs at the event or to one of the department’s “affinity groups,” which allow students to get more involved with the department, such as the Afrocentric group for Black students or the Monarch group for Latin and Hispanic students.

The juggernaut Diversity Office opened in 2018 and has grown by leaps and bounds since Donald Glenn, the department’s director, arrived on campus in 2019.

It has gone from being a department within a department, once under the banner of Student Engagement, to its own office, the Multicultural, Inclusion and Diversity Office.

The celebration kicked into high gear after the sun set.

Now called the Diversity and Inclusion Department, it includes two new divisions: the Equity Office, which handles issues of discrimination, and the Multicultural Office, charged with creating unifying spaces and events around campus, such as Project L.

The department has grown from 10 student coordinators, who are its most ardent ambassadors, to 14 this year. On most days, you can find them on the first floor of Kaibab, the new home of the Inclusion Lounge.

Iliyani Lambey, one of the performers at Project L, said she values what the Diversity and Inclusion Department does.

“I really like this office. I think inclusion and diversity is really important on campus, so I try to come out and support it,” said the senior, a member of the Associated Students of GCU who is majoring in government with an emphasis in legal studies.

Senior hospitality and marketing major Kelsia Liburd (left) sold eyelashes and other accessories.

Senior hospitality and marketing major Kelsia Liburd was at the event as a vendor, selling eyelashes and other accessories. She wanted to be a part of the event to show her support for what the office does in promoting diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion around campus – and she just wanted to welcome students during Welcome Week, a feeling she has gotten to know in her years at the University.

“My mom went to school here,” said Liburd, who is from St. Kitts and Nevis, saying of the campus community,  “ … They’re so welcoming.”

Samari Mobley, a senior psychology major, attended Project L to make some new friends.

“I came just to catch a vibe and meet some new people,” she said, especially after feeling so cooped up during the pandemic. “Being back on campus and to be able to be around people … it makes you want to get out.”

Jeian Miguel, a sophomore nursing student and resident assistant at Willow Hall, was at Project L to promote her club, the Philippine American Student Association, which was not as active on the GCU campus in the 2020-21 school year.

A bubble machine added to the festivities at Project L, designed not just as a social event but to connect students with the campus’ multicultural and diversity groups.

That will change this year. “We wanted to be more present,” she said, adding how the Diversity and Inclusion Department has helped the campus’ multicultural groups come together.

“Now we’re little pockets that have formed into one big group.”

Besides promoting multiculturalism, Miguel was at Project L with her friends “to feast up, because that’s what Filipinos do,” she said with a smile. And as a sophomore whose freshman Welcome Week was low-key because of the pandemic, she wanted to blow out this year’s Welcome Week.

“We didn’t have that big Welcome Week,” she said. “This is our year. We’ve got to jump in. This is what it’s all about,” she said as the sun set and the social event really kicked into high gear with a DJ sending the crowd into a celebratory mood.

It will be a busy year for the Diversity and Inclusion Department. A slew of events are in the works post Project L, such as the Multicultural Office open house from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5, in Kaibab; the Latin Heritage Celebration, tentatively set for Sept. 23; Un1ty One Week, slated for Oct. 4-8, which features events to uplift the campus; a Native American Heritage Month event in November; and the popular Culture Fest in the spring.

DJs, vocalists and other musical acts kept the party going.

If there’s one important message Glenn said he would like students to take away from Project L, he said it’s the unifying theme of the department’s events this year, based on Genesis 1:27: “We’re all created in the image of God,” he said, and “by interacting with a brother or a sister, you are becoming more culturally aware and understanding of God’s creation.”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.

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