Multicultural Office skates into new year

Freshman Michael Duran shows off his freestyle skating at the outdoor hockey/roller skating rink during Project L.

Photos by Ralph Freso/View slideshow here

It wasn’t exactly Throwback Thursday, but Grand Canyon University's Multicultural Office did dip into nostalgia and rolled back its annual Project L — it stands for Project Lopes — to a disco ’70s, roller rink-themed event on Tuesday night.

“I’m new here, I need to meet people and it just seems fun,” freshman forensic science major Samantha Alvarado said of why she decided to head to the fall edition of Project L, one of the biggest multicultural events of the year (a second Project L will kick off the spring semester in January).

“Can I fall? Absolutely. Am I an elite skate-ist? No,” she said with a laugh as she laced on her skates and gingerly made her way to the campus’ outdoor hockey/roller skating rink adjacent to the Canyon Activity Center. The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” blared in the background and encouraged her skating exploits while an announcer watched the action and threw in some color commentary.

The celebration is turned up high at Project L as students dance to the music of a disc jockey.

Fostering a sense of community with a fun event before the start of the academic year is exactly why the group throws the beginning-of-the-year ice-breaker, one of a slew of evening Welcome Week social gatherings that will include Canyon Cool Down on Thursday and Lope-A-Palooza on Friday.

“I just wanted to hang out and meet people and be here with my roomies,” said Justin Palenchar, a freshman majoring in cybersecurity.

The event, which was expected to attract a couple thousand students over its three-hour stint at the CAC, not only featured roller skating but Italian ice treats to keep students cool and a DJ on the lawn, where a dance circle quickly formed. Students pumped up by the music jumped in and showed off their dancing skills to, not only an ABBA song or two, but Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.”

Not that Project L is just an ice-breaker.

Italian ice treats help students stay cool.

“We’re trying to get people acquainted with our office and acquainted with each other,” said Multicultural Office Manager Zach Broussely.

The office, which includes 20 student leaders, made structural and staffing changes over the summer, moving from the Department of Diversity and Inclusion to the Office of Student Engagement.

Despite those changes, “The core of what we’re doing is the same,” said Broussely, and that’s to love and serve the GCU community by treating everyone with respect and compassion. The office carries out that mission through programming and events.

Besides Project L, the Multicultural Office staff and students are already looking forward to the first beyond-Welcome Week event of the year, “Baile en Libertad” on Sept. 22, which means “Dance in Freedom.” It will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and will recognize the seven countries celebrating their independence that month: Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile and Costa Rica.

Students take a selfie on the rink.

Un1ty Week returns Oct. 3-6 and will include a full week of cultural events designed to unify the campus. It will be followed by the Native American Celebration on Nov. 3.

Broussely added that the office has added a new initiative this year, a mentorship program called THEM (Teaching Humility and Equity through Mentorship) and is promoting CORE (the Coalition of Racial Equality), which educates students on diversity-related topics.

The Multicultural Office won’t be taking a breather the rest of Welcome Week, either. Student leaders continue to staff the office’s booth on the Promenade and will culminate the week with an open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday at its space in Kaibab. It’s where students will find the Inclusion Lounge, a gathering space open to everyone.

A dance circle on the Canyon Activity Center lawn was the perfect place to bust a move.

“I’d hang out at the Inclusion Lounge all last year,” said Nathan Burk, a psychology/business junior who is now one of the Multicultural Office’s student leaders.

He was one of four student leaders introducing the office to students at its table on the Promenade on Tuesday afternoon before making his way to Project L later that day.

He wanted to join the Multicultural Office, he said, because at the high school he attended, which included a diverse population of students, “We didn’t really have anything for them to connect, so when I heard about this, I thought it was cool.”

Besides roller skating and dancing on the CAC lawn, the event also featured tabling by several of the campus’ infinity groups, such as the newly named Indigenous Coalition, which last year was called the Native American Student Union.

Students learn about the campus' various infinity groups, such as the Sexuality and Gender Awareness group.

It is the smallest infinity group on campus, but something Indigenous Coalition Captain Nathan Lomayesva, a Cherokee Nation member studying digital design/animation, hopes to change.

Last year, “We didn’t have a big outreach, so this year we want to do more,” he said. “It’s hard because there isn’t a big Native population at GCU.”

Lomayesva, who’s looking forward to the drumming and fry bread sale at November’s Native American Celebration, said despite the group’s small size, “We want to provide a sense of community for our indigenous students here.”

We hope to spread the love and make people proud of their roots.

Jeian Miguel, team captain of the Sulit Naman infinity group

Another infinity group that recently changed its name is Sulit Naman, previously called the Philippine American Student Association. Sulit Naman translates to “It’s Worth It,” which reflects “what it means to be in the group and how it is to celebrate culture,” said Jeian Miguel, team captain.

In her view, the big takeaway for students attending Project L is to just celebrate their culture.

“A lot of people tend to shy away from it. … We hope to spread the love and make people proud of their roots,” Miguel said.

Added Broussely, “We want students to know, you’re here, you’re welcome and we want you to have a voice on campus.”

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

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