DOS Program Promotes Tolerance

The growing diversity of UC Irvine requires that students and faculty acknowledge the variety of cultures, religions and ethnicities that are a part of our community. This summer, 60 incoming freshmen and transfer students attended the Summer Multicultural Leadership Institute program, designed to teach students to think critically about cultural understanding and freedom of speech.
Anna Gonzalez, associate dean of students and director of the Cross-Cultural Center, described the approach to teaching used in the program.
‘One of the things that we accomplished is showing the students that there’s a lot of gray and things aren’t black and white,’ Gonzalez said. ‘These issues aren’t easy.’
The participants were selected from a pool of about 160 applicants for the day-and-a-half-long program, in which the students were led in several activities to illustrate the various values the program sought to teach.
Sheefteh Khalili, a UCI alumnus and one of the student facilitators of the program, felt that the program was a vital experience for incoming students.
‘[SMLI] is necessary and I hope that some day every single student who comes to UCI will go through some sort of diversity and leadership training,’ Khalili said. ‘It’s important for students to know that everyone has a role in advocating for social justice.’
In one exercise, students solved case studies of on-campus conflicts (many of which were based on real-life events). They were asked to solve a complex issue in an effective way, while adhering to UC rules and regulations.
Rayan Fakhro, a first-year philosophy major and one of the student participants in the program, felt that the main benefit was learning how to effectively solve student conflicts as they arise.
‘All students need [this program] when going off to college,’ Fakhro said. ‘Even if the participants get absolutely nothing out of the program, they will at least understand how to handle numerous conflicts. They will understand that there are always multiple versions of the same story.’
Another activity that took place in the program was a religion panel, which consisted of representatives from the three most prominent world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The participants on the panel included Rabbi Richard Steinberg, Father Will Christ and Immam Sadullah Khan. The three discussed and debated various issues in a respectful setting, which showed students how even those who are religious can come together in a positive and beneficial way.
SMLI is aimed toward incoming students in order to start them on the path to becoming leaders at UCI.
‘There are so many students who are involved in issues of diversity and social justice, but often they are older students, so this was an opportunity to prepare these incoming students to be leaders from the very beginning,’ Khalili said.
The program has opened many opportunities for students and administrators to create a more understanding atmosphere on campus.
‘I was really impressed with the students,’ Gonzalez said. ‘We sometimes underestimate how smart these students really are. These are adults and they should be treated like adults.’
Administrators hope that this program will be held every year and will grow to accommodate even more incoming students. Currently, funding from the program comes from the Difficult Dialogue Grant, although it is not clear from where future funding for the program will come from.