Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by David Kadulbowski
GCU News Bureau
Iliyani Lambey doesn’t think of the United States as a melting pot. The image of different nationalities, cultures and ethnicities fusing together as one isn’t exactly the right description of this country, at least for her.
To her, America is more like a salad bowl – each ingredient giving the whole salad distinct flavors yet, putting all those ingredients together, they make for one amazing dish. She likes to think that America hasn’t lost its distinctive hues.
“We’re different,” said the Grand Canyon University sophomore government major with an emphasis in legal studies. “And that’s OK.”
So why not celebrate those differences?
It’s what the Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office did Friday at Worship Night, the culminating activity of Un1ty One Week. Other events during the week included Zoom discussions about race, an art walk, presidential-style debate and the Cooking and Culture event, in which students tasted dishes from different nations submitted to Sodexo and Chef Milton Gamez by some of the campus’ multicultural clubs.
While Worship Night featured prayer and music, the highlight was the Parade of the Nations. Students carried flags from different countries as they paraded around the Quad, many of them dressed in the native attire of their homelands.
For Los Angeles resident Lambey, whose family is from Belize, that meant wearing traditional Garifuna attire – a modest yet brightly colored full skirt, hers red with diamond and checkered patterns, and a V-neck white blouse.
The Garifuna are one of the indigenous groups in Belize, Lambey said, though they also have settled in other Central American countries along the eastern coast of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
“The last time I visited (Belize) was three years ago, but I still keep in contact with my family,” said Lambey, who wanted to attend Worship Night and the Parade of the Nations to show her support of the Multicultural Office.
“I really want to support this office because I feel like people are always talking about being marginalized,” she said. “So I want to support an office on campus that is helping with that, that is helping stop that, that is making everybody on campus feel like they’re part of this community.”
According to the Multicultural Office, more than 90 different cultures and nations are represented at GCU. Not only is the University home to an abundance of international students, but the campus exists in a community that is one of the most diverse in Phoenix. Immigrants and asylum-seekers who speak more than 40 languages live right outside of GCU.
“In many ways, the world has come to the GCU neighborhood,” President Brian Mueller said in a recent Phoenix Business Journal article.
Friday’s flag parade was one way the Multicultural Office wanted to show just how diverse the campus is.
Jennifer Obi, a sophomore psychology and pre-med major and one of the Multicultural Office interns, wore a traditional Nigerian gown with a peplum-styled top and fitted skirt for the Parade of the Nations. She spoke of the steady crowd of students that stopped by Cooking and Culture Night the evening before at Canyon Field.
“People were very interested in everything we had to show. They were interested to eat the food. It was a really good time, a really good turnout,” she said.
She always is happy to share her Nigerian culture with other people, she added.
“People looking at me wouldn’t think, ‘OK, you’re African or anything like that, so when I tell them, then it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’” said Obi, who is part of a Nigerian cultural group. “I really am rooted in my roots.”
Shahiba Bhattarai, one of the student coordinators in the Multicultural Office, wore a traditional sapphire blue and gold Bangladeshi silk sari to the event that she borrowed from her friend, Arifa Ali. Bhattarai actually is an Alaskan resident whose family is from Nepal, but she said the national dress and cultures of the two countries are similar.
“I love shedding a light on other cultures that are out there and just educating people about the beauty in everything that comes with culture, food, all sorts of things that people might not be exposed to, especially being from Nepal,” she said.
Ali, who was born in Michigan but moved to the Phoenix area with her family in 2007, last visited Bangladesh in 2019 and keeps close to her family and culture. When people are curious about her culture, she's quick to open the window to those traditions.
“They ask about our clothes and about the food we eat and the rules. … They also ask about wedding (traditions),” she said.
Multicultural Office Director Donald Glenn, in a talk after the socially distanced parade, quoted from Revelation 7:9:
“After this, I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from every tribe, from every people and language, standing there before the Lamb.”
He also read from Galatians 3:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Glenn said, “We are one love and one Lope. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that unifies us. It makes us one body. When we get to heaven, there will be no Black or White, no Hispanic, no Asian, no separate section in heaven.”
It’s a message that the Multicultural Office has been emphasizing to students since the beginning of the semester -- that although everyone is different, we are all one in our faith.
He told students that as Election Day approaches, they should remember their oneness in faith during what might be a challenging week.
Un1ty One Week was just the latest in back-to-back events by the Multicultural Office this semester. The department kicked off the year with the One Love Awareness Walk during Welcome Week in September, followed by Hispanic Heritage events in early October and then Un1ty One Week.
“It was all about us coming together,” Glenn said, “and continuing that message of oneness.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.