By Mai Sue Thao, CCLC Asian Programs Paraprofessional
When I ask people to come into the Cross-Cultural Leadership Center (CCLC), some people look at me and say, “Isn’t that only for people of color?” And the answer is no. The center is dedicated to more than just providing a space for our students of color, it is about connecting students to each other as well as providing opportunities for our students to be empowered.
Some of these opportunities include our weekly B.O.L.D. (Beyond Obstacles Leadership Development) meetings that focus on leadership development and creating a community of support, our community specific programs that focus specifically on how to bring together our students of color on campus, our Late Night Lounge series which focuses on creating an alternative late night weekend opportunity for students on campus to still have fun and enjoy that late night life in a safe environment, and our Diversity 411 series which strives to educate the campus community on different ideas and aspects of diversity. Anyone is welcome to use the space, as it is a place where change can happen.
I think when people hear “culture,” they automatically think about minority cultures, and for some students, that deters them from the idea or subject. One reason I think this happens is that culture and diversity, in general, is a hard subject to think about and talk about. It is rooted in racism, discrimination, war, and violence, and I feel that because history has only taught us the harsh realities, we forget to celebrate the great things.
Diversity is important because it opens our eyes to different lives, different experiences. If we start to understand each other, we can become more open-minded. It is easy to judge before taking the time to learn about a culture, about a person, but when we judge before we take the time to understand, we isolate and increase the distance between us even more. We do not have to accept everything in one culture and even in our own culture, but it is not up to us to tell someone who we believe they ought to be or what their culture ought to look like.
Social justice is one of the things that push our students to come into the CCLC. It is a place where, if you have an idea, we can help make it come to life. “Dream big” is something we encourage our students to do. If you can dream it, we can help you make it happen. There are no boundaries, only the boundary of your imagination.
For me, the CCLC has been a place of growth and self-exploration. It has given me an opportunity to face the hardest parts of my past and learn how to overcome it and move on by sharing my story and releasing the burden of keeping it a secret. More than anything, I found a family and a community within the CCLC. Everyone greets everyone with a hug and genuinely asks you how you are doing. You find people who will willingly listen to your story. I could not imagine working in a more supportive and loving environment where we put the person before the job.
The CCLC is an important space on campus because it focuses on cross-cultural connections and challenges rather than just working in a silo, focusing on one specific culture. By including all cultures, it allows students from different ethnicities and backgrounds to freely interact with each other and learn from each other, breaking down barriers and walls and building bridges between communities. It gives students of color an opportunity to be themselves in an environment that might be different from what they grew up in since Chico State is a predominantly white institution.
Most importantly, the CCLC provides support and opens doors for students to have a future, to dream of the impossibilities and make them seem obtainable for them. A lot of our students come from underrepresented backgrounds where they have been discriminated against. The Center provides that support and mentorship to tell them that their struggle is the beginning, but it does not have to be the middle and the end of their story.