Toni Myers Shares Vision for Multicultural Resource Center
In May 2016, Antoinette (Toni) Myers began a one-year appointment as interim assistant dean of students and director of the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC). As of March 2017, this short-term, one-year appointment became a long-term engagement, as Myers has accepted an offer to fill the roles permanently.
“I'm very excited to have the opportunity to continue on in this role,” says Myers. “When I left Oberlin in 2014, I had no idea that I'd ever come back. Every single day I’m reaffirmed in my decision to return, because I have the honor of working with Oberlin students. They’re passionate, brilliant, committed to social justice and equity, and independent, critical thinkers who want to change the world we live in. Who wouldn't want to work here?”
The upcoming 2017-2018 academic year will be Myers’ third year at Oberlin. Prior to earning a master’s degree in education at Stanford University, Myers previously worked in the MRC for one year as the Africana coordinator during the 2013-2014 school year.
Founded in 1995, the Oberlin College MRC supports historically disenfranchised communities and addresses issues of diversity and inclusion within a social justice context. Through its collaboration with members of the campus community, the center strives to create a vision of anti-oppression and social justice that supports educational excellence.
"In embracing the holistic development of our students, we hope to demonstrate a commitment to pushing Oberlin College to be ready for our historically disenfranchised student population. In the MRC, we laugh at memes, we dance to our favorite songs, we have deep political conversation, we express our anger and frustration at injustice, we honor those who have passed away, and we embrace all of the collective differences of the students we serve."
Defining Goals and Outcomes
As interim director, Myers made it a priority to understand how the institution viewed key issues related to the MRC. “It was important for me to learn about how Oberlin defines diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism and to re-center the MRC in campus conversations about social justice and equity.”
To this end, the group created goals and outcomes for the year focusing on three areas:
1) Student community support, education, and advocacy, with a focus on social justice activism, care, and holistic well-being
2) Inter- and intra-community building through student leadership development and mentorship
3) Creative engagement with campus partners and local institutions
Myers also rolled out several new initiatives during the academic year, including the introduction of additional areas of focus—student outreach and success and social justice education—for the MRC’s assistant directors. The office also headed up an Undocumented Student Initiative that advocates for issues such as urging Oberlin to become a sanctuary campus, and it co-created with Obies for Undocumented Inclusion an undocumented student scholarship fund. These initiatives display the MRC’s commitment to supporting undocumented students on campus.
However, Myers’ immediate plans for the MRC incorporate both continuing programs and initiatives that currently reside within the center while also introducing new ideas.
Next Steps for the MRC
One area Myers plans to address is programming, as the center co-sponsors and supports more than 20 programs a year, in addition to "Power, Privilege, and Oppression" and "Beyond the Binary," workshops, as well as new "UndocuAlly" trainings. “In the future, we’re hoping to really focus on our flagship programs—’My Name is My Own,’ and the ‘Indigenous Women’s Series,’” says Myers. “We’ll work on reducing the number of smaller programs so we can really focus on quality and the organization of our large programs. What will help with this is working with the MRC faculty advisory board to create learning outcomes specific to the centers' programs and workshops. After we've created outcomes and goals, we'll be in a much better position to assess if we are effective in how we serve our students. We also hope to develop a social justice education curriculum, which may take the form of an ExCo next year.”
According to Myers, the primary initiative for the MRC will be community building. “Outreach beyond Oberlin’s immediate campus is a really big part of what we used to do as a center and what we maybe don’t do as well currently,” says Myers. “But in the future, I want us to be better at engaging the surrounding local communities in our work.”
To address this, MRC staff have begun building connections with underrepresented groups in the community, including those in nearby areas in Lorain.
“Julio Reyes, our program director for undocumented students, went out and made connections with folks in Lorain [who support undocumented immigrants],” Myers says. “By doing this, he also showed the Oberlin campus community that there are folks nearby who are engaging in important discussions around support for undocumented and DACA-mented folks in the midst of this tense political climate.”
The MRC has also begun to conduct outreach with area LGBTQ groups to further build on the idea of community.
“Even though our LGBTQ student life coordinator’s job is to connect with Oberlin students, he wanted to be part of the LGBTQ Lorain task force to link our two communities and to understand how to support LGBTQ and trans youth, and their parents, in Lorain county. He’s been going to their meetings to find out how to host those students on our campus,” says Myers.
“And those are just two examples. We want to do more of that,” says Myers. “I want to be aware of the influence I have in this specific role and within this institution. I want to think about how we can truly engage with folks that might never have the opportunity to enroll in a class at Oberlin.”
Myers’ vision for the MRC also expands the concept of Oberlin’s community geographically. “In Ohio, I think we have an opportunity to work with local folks in Lorain and all the way to East Cleveland," says Myers. “If you can drive here, you’re part of my community.”
From an institutional standpoint, Myers plans to broaden the MRC’s community to include peer and regional colleges. “I’d like to engage the Great Lakes Colleges Association and the Five Colleges of Ohio—those peer colleges we talk about. But I’m also thinking of Case Western Reserve University, which has a fantastic social justice institute, Cleveland State University, and historically black colleges like Wilberforce University and Central State University.”
Vision for the Future
Myers’ overall vision for the MRC is to center the voices and experiences of historically disenfranchised students at Oberlin in all the work they do. “It is to be more than a center that focuses on cultural programming. And while community-specific multicultural programming is incredibly important work and a vital connection to our faculty and staff campus partners, the coordinators in the MRC are also advisers to individual students and student organizations, facilitators of workshops and trainings, and offer specialized knowledge in areas of social justice and equity that is crucial to creating an inclusive and equitable campus culture and climate. As the needs of our students evolve, so will our center.”
When planning for the future of the MRC, Myers believes in working closely with the college. “Creating a general advisory board next fall with student participants and relaunching the faculty advisory board this past spring are just two ways that we hope to truly collaborate with the Oberlin College community in co-creating a new vision for the MRC."
Finally, Myers envisions the MRC as a catalyst for campus-wide social awareness and change. “I want the MRC to be seen as a partner in a larger campus coalition around diversity, equity, and social justice. I believe that all of us at Oberlin College have a stake in supporting historically disenfranchised students. If we begin to think of ourselves as a coalition invested in student success, it makes it a lot easier for us to foster that sense of community our students are really hungry for.”