Passion for diversity, inclusion unmasked at ball
Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Rick D’Elia
GCU News Bureau
Manuel Blancas dressed to the nines for the Project L masquerade ball. While other students might have thought the formal event was an opportunity to don their shiny shoes, for Blancas it meant a little something more.
“I came to this event because of COVID. They canceled our prom, so I kind of wanted to go. It was like another chance to go with her to a dance,” said the Grand Canyon University freshman nursing student of attending the event with fellow nursing major Yaressia Garcia.
Here’s to second chances.
Project L (the L stands for Lope) also was the Multicultural Office’s second chance, if you will – its second icebreaker – this academic year to bring students together. The office, a division of the burgeoning Diversity and Inclusion Department, schedules two Project L events annually, at the beginning of each semester.
The first Project L during Welcome Week was a casual, dress-down barbecue that attracted so many students to the Grove Lawn that the Multicultural Office worried it would run out of hamburgers and hot dogs.
This time around, the group wanted to break from the routine.
“We’ve done all the things out, so we wanted something different,” said senior government major Alani Perkins, the Multicultural Office Student Coordinator. “We’ve never done a formal event, so we thought that would be really interesting.”
The masquerade ball included food, a photo booth, dancing and free masks.
“It’s just a way to try to get students out and build community and meet new people,” said Zach Broussely, Diversity and Inclusion Department Administrative Assistant.
“We’re celebrating the beginning of the semester. We know this year is going to be a good year. … We’re just here to have a good time,” added Perkins, who is in her first year with the Multicultural Office.
She joined the organization because it spoke to her.
“I just knew it was for me. It aligned with all my values and things I try to advocate for, so it was like the perfect match. One of the major goals of the office is to make everyone feel included, and I feel we’re working hard to do that. It’s very important to me.”
While Project L may have been a just-for-fun social event, the Multicultural Office and Diversity and Inclusion Department contribute much more to the University than the twice-a-year Project L.
“It’s hard to define what we do in a couple of sentences,” said junior finance and economics major Theo Franco Elias, Multicultural Office Co-Director.
Beyond the various social events, the team oversees the Inclusion Lounge in Kaibab, a space open to all students.
“There’s always a student leader there,” said Franco Elias. “There are always conversations, interesting conversations, from students from different parts of the world, different backgrounds.”
Added Perkins, “The Inclusion Lounge, I tell everybody you’re welcome anytime.” The idea behind the unique campus space is central to why she decided to join the group: “It’s the most important part for me. It’s inclusion and knowing everyone is welcome, no matter where you come from, no matter your background. This is a space for all.”
Franco Elias said the team also assists in mediations related to diversity and inclusion, and it partners with “affinity groups,” various cultural and diversity organizations across campus.
The GCU chapter of Asian Corporate & Entrepreneur Leaders set up an information table at Project L to let students know about the new club, which is in its first year at GCU.
The career and professional group helps Asian American students “come together as a community” by hosting workshops, such as resume workshops, along with cultural events, said junior finance and economics major Jade Quinn, GCU’s ACEL chapter founder.
The group is planning an event to celebrate the lunar new year, Quinn said, and wanted to be at Project L to get its name out to students.
“This is the second event we’ve done as ACEL. We thought it was a good opportunity to come and meet people and network.”
GCU’s Multicultural Office is planning a slew of events this semester that will offer students more networking opportunities.
For Black History Month, the team is hosting a basketball tournament, tentatively scheduled for 6-9 p.m. Feb. 17 on The Grove lawn. In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Multicultural Office will set up an information table from 12:15-1:15 p.m. Feb. 28 on the Promenade, and then there’s Culture Fest from 5-8 p.m. March 10 at GCU Arena, followed by the annual luau in partnership with the Hui Aloha Club, tentatively scheduled for 5-7 p.m. April 7 on the Quad.
Since the Diversity office opened in 2018, it has experienced phenomenal growth. It was once under the banner of Student Engagement before becoming its own office. Now it’s a full department under Director Donald Glenn. It includes two divisions: the Equity Office, which assists in mediations related to discrimination issues, and the Multicultural Office, which creates unifying spaces and campus events.
It also has grown from 10 student leaders to 15.
“It’s changed the campus and the student body greatly,” Franco Elias said. “The greatest achievement I think we have contributed … we feel the Multicultural Office has made that difference to help them feel more comfortable, feel more represented.”
What he enjoys the most about working in the office is just hearing so many different viewpoints.
“We have a very diverse team. We have international students from all over the world. We have people from all over the country. Every day you get to hear a different perspective on something,” Franco Elias said.
Sophomore Worship Arts major Kaylei Brown was excited to shop for a formal dress and attend Project L.
“I’m just interested in this organization, being cultural myself. I’m glad we have something on campus that supports us,” Brown said.
For Blancas and Garcia, the couple who had a second chance at prom, the night was still young as Project L started wrapping up around 7 p.m., which was tipoff time for the men’s basketball game against Abilene Christian at GCU Arena.
They planned on going – in their formalwear.
“Yeah,” Garcia said with a laugh. “I don’t want to go change.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
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