Director of Intercultural Engagement hired

Photo Courtesy/Peter Davidson
Photo Courtesy/Peter Davidson

By Tyler Randazzo

After a long search process, the Center for Intercultural and Civic Engagement (CICE) has hired a new Director of Intercultural Engagement, former DePauw University Director of Cultural Resource Centers and Coordinator of LGBT services Vivie Nguyen. Nguyen will begin her work at the University on March 31. She will serve as a co-director, along with Dave Wright, the Director of Spiritual Life and Civic Engagement. Nguyen will fill a position that has been open since Sept. 22, 2015, when former Director of Intercultural Engagement, Czarina Ramsay, left the University for a position at Seattle University. According to DePauw University’s website, Nguyen is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine, and received her Master’s in counseling psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2011.

The search for a new director of intercultural engagement began in the fall when associate Dean of Students Donn Marshall put together a search committee, which included three student representatives, three faculty members and three staff members.

“We wanted to make sure we hired the right person, and getting someone who really fit the personality of the school, the personality of our office, who had the interpersonal and the academic chops to really work on diversity intiatives in a place where it was both a social relationship and also had some academic heft, and intellectual heft. We didn’t try to rush to fill it. We knew it would be a challenging year and we were able to shift some of the workload between myself, Skylar Bihl and Michael Benitez,” Wright said.

However, that meant more work for Wright and Bihl, the Assistant Director for Spiritual Life and Civic Engagement. Wright commented that he had less time to work on disability and interfaith initiatives this year, and Bihl took over the Transgender Awareness and Inclusion Committee, which Ramsey had been running prior to her departure. Wright added that another result of the open position was that the CICE relied more heavily on student leaders. Wright understands that this meant less support for minority communities on campus.

“I know that many of our student communities in the Student Diversity Center haven’t felt as visibly supported,” Wright said.

A lot of the CICE’s work this year went into supporting student leaders to do the work of supporting those communities. Being short-staffed has been especially challenging considering this was the year we had the Advocates of Institutional Change (AIC)  protests, as well as a number of  other social action initiatives by groups on campus, Wright added.

Logistics were a challenge throughout the process, as the committee sought to include students in the process as much as possible. The committee was impressed with Nguyen throughout the process, and ultimately made decision was made to offer the position to Nguyen.

Wright is excited about the future of the program with Nguyen at the helm. Wright added that the position remains unchanged, and that Nguyen will largely be responsible for the advocacy and support of students from minority backgrounds, particularly those students who identify with a traditionally underrepresented racial, ethnic, sexual and/or gender identity. Nguyen will be instrumental in providing support to those students when they encounter situations of institutional bias as well. Wright expressed the similarity of the social justice programs at DePauw to those at Puget Sound. Both Puget Sound and DePauw have social justice programs that integrate religious life and diversity.

“At DePauw, she was key in managing their student diversity centers, so she feels like she can step in right where Czarina left off at,” Wright said. “Vivie will serve a key role being part of the diversity advisory council, bias hate education response team, she will set on the faculty committee for diversity.”

Day to day, she will oversee the Student Diversity Center (SDC) and the four students who work there. Nguyen will also be involved with multi-cultural programming, and may work with student conduct as well. Nguyen’s first official day is March 31,Wright is optimistic about the budget of the CICE and has seen positive progress in the last few years. The current budget for both intercultural engagement and spiritual life and civic engagement is a little over $20,000, Wright said. He stressed that this was a very rough estimate. That budget covers a variety of programs, including the MLK program, and civic engagement programs, including transportation for the mentoring and tutoring programs in the Tacoma community.

“Instead of saying, we’ll tutor and mentor kids who can get to campus, we’re now helping students through Zipcars, carpools and van rentals get out to local public schools and be a part of the community that way,” Wright said.

Wright said that the last several years have seen increases around budgets in social justice and social action work, and that these programs have fared far better than others at the University.

“They’re not huge amounts. This past year was the first time we’ve had full funding for the MLK celebration from the institution,” Wright said.

But that $5,000 allowed them to fly in Jasiri X from the east coast and put together a much more exciting program than they had been able to fund in the past. Furthermore, the Budget Task Force recommendation for social justice programs is $20,000. However, Wright is not sure exactly how that money will be allocated, though he knows some will go towards the CICE as well as ASUPS diversity programming, to Dean Benitez, and to SIRGE (Sexuality Issues, Relationships and Gender Education) programming.

One of the things that Nguyen will be able to look into when she gets to campus is the SDC.

“Currently the space we have for the Student Diversity Center is tiny. Many of our groups overflow, we’ve had meetings in there that people have been stacked three people on the couch…we have several groups now, that, because the SDC is not available when they want to or need to meet, are now meeting elsewhere on campus,” Wright said.

In fact, one of the demands of the AIC was a new SDC in the space currently occupied by Warner Gym and Pool.

“I know Vivie will look at it… It’s one of the more challenging ones,” Wright said of the demand, as there are no plans for changes to Warner gym, as far as he is aware. However, Wright is supportive of a plan to expand the SDC. “If we’re truly going to have a space for our underrepresented and [minority] students to come together, right now it doesn’t meet that need,” Wright said.