“It was 5:00pm. I’d been through this before. I have commuted to Oakland University in the past for various programs such as the OU Diverse Student Leader Weekend and the Center for Multicultural Initiatives welcome reception. However, this ride seemed somehow different from the others. I felt uneasy. Take that uneasiness, and add a dash of excitement and uncertainty, and one could have quickly captured my feelings in a bottle.
I was not able to understand why, until it hit me. I was indeed on my way to Oakland, of that there was no doubt; however I quickly discovered the reason for my uneasiness. This time, I would not be returning home with my family. This time, I would remain at the university, to start a new journey of my very own. This single act represented a significant milestone in my life. No longer in my comfort zone, I would be forced to change. From here on, I would be writing my own history.”
–excerpted from one of the very first papers I wrote in a communications class during my freshman year at Oakland University. Fast forward some years later, and I’ve found that my experiences there continue to inform my development in a positive way.
This post is the first of a 7 part series in which I expand on some of my responses to questions from a recent news interview I had about my experiences with working to build more inclusive communities as a student at Oakland University and beyond.
“How did you become active as a leader in your (Oakland University) community?”
After being accepted to Oakland University, the Center for Multicultural Initiatives was my very first contact. As a first generation college student, participating in their diverse student leader weekend benefitted me greatly because having the opportunity to become familiar with Oakland’s campus for an extended period of time before the actual school year began helped me to feel more comfortable about entering into a territory that was for me, previously uncharted.
In addition, knowing that the folks at CMI were so truly and genuinely invested in helping me to succeed let me know that I had allies on campus that would celebrate with me during times of success, and support me during times of difficulty.
As my COM 101 class was coming to a close during my freshman year, my two instructors, who had noticed some leadership potential in me, recommended that I pursue working with the orientation department as an orientation group leader.
From there I went on to become a Resident Assistant within University Housing, a Peer Mentor for the Center for Multicultural Initiatives, as well as a mentor for the Pre-College Programs and the Historian for the Association of Black Students. In each of these roles I was able to develop my skills and interests in providing academic, social, and cultural enrichment opportunities to students and staff on campus to increase community understanding.
Being honored with the Keeper of the Dream Award for my efforts to challenge cultural stereotypes and promote interracial understanding was both humbling and affirming for me. It is an honor that I truly value, one that I still keep close to this day, and one that I will continue to inform my approach to my work moving forward into the future.
As a proud introvert who can play the role of an extrovert when duty calls, as someone who gains energy by having time alone to reflect on things, but who is also very communal, believe me when I say that there are many ways to lead. However more often than not, in my work, I consider myself to be a servant.
Grace & Peace,
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW
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