Feb 222005
 
Authors: Caroline Welch

In the age of a melting-pot society, where diversity is promoted and difference is appreciated, colleges across the country are looking for ways to support the mission of integration.

Seven CSU advocacy offices promote diversity, but none are centered on religion as a diversity issue.

The advocacy offices opened in the 1970s and started with an ethnic focus, but they have expanded to include gender, disabilities and sexual orientation.

Kahleel Alyahya, president of Muslim Student Association and a Ph. D student in neurobiology, said it is time to add religion to the mix, specifically for Muslims.

"Our mission is advocacy," Alyahya said. "We want to educate about Islam, and tell people who Muslims are."

Alyahya said the Muslim Student Association (MSA) was created in 1987, and its members have worked hard to host events and teach people about their culture, a mission that has only gotten harder since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"We have to work harder (since Sept. 11) and give extra time," Alyahya said. "It is a huge responsibility and we are working harder than ever before."

Alyahya said the group has hosted speakers on campus and gone into classes to teach about Islam, and not just at CSU. The group has gone out into the Fort Collins community and is associated with Muslim associations in Denver, Greeley and Wyoming. Alyahya said the group wants to share its message with everyone.

"They (the terrorists of Sept. 11) are not presenting Muslims," he said. "They are presenting themselves with their own agenda."

Alyahya said Islam's goals are exactly the opposite of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Muslims enjoy life and build life, not destroy it," he said. "We are commanded to help others, appreciate life and appreciate help from others."

Alyahya said support from CSU students, faculty and staff has been amazing and they really appreciate the work MSA does, but it is time to take it to the next level. Alyahya said he has talked with other advocacy office personnel to see how their offices work, and the student association's goal is clear.

"We have a hope and a plan," he said. "We made a proposal that demonstrates the need of having MSA as one of the advocacy offices for better services for Muslim students and for a better understanding of Islam."

But the road to advocacy at CSU is a long one.

Blanche Hughes, associate vice president for student affairs, said the idea of having advocacy offices started in the 1970s with "Project GO" (Generating Opportunities), a program to support racially diverse students at the university level.

According to the Black Student Services Self-Study-Program Review (1997 to 2002), the first advocacy offices were El Centro and Black Student Services, which were created during the 1976-77 school year. The Office of Women's Programs and Studies, Resources for Disabled Students and Native American Student Services opened in the late 1970s, and a group advocacy program was created in the fall of 1979 to show CSU's commitment to diversity.

Asian/Pacific American Student Services was created in 1984, and Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Student Services is the most recent advocacy office and was created in 1998, according to the study. Each office was created with one thing in mind.

Students can't learn if they are not comfortable," Hughes said. "We wanted to have visual support for diverse students. The emphasis is to increase diversity on a predominantly-white campus."

Mitch Walker, a sophomore business major, said that even though he has never gone to an advocacy office, their importance is substantial.

"They definitely serve a purpose for people who feel like they don't fit in or want to talk to someone who can relate to them," he said.

But the decision to have a new advocacy office is a big one, Hughes said.

"We have to be very thoughtful about the purpose of the office," she said. "Will it help them?"

Jennifer Williams Molock, director of Black Student Services and executive director of the advocacy cluster in the student affairs division, said when thinking about becoming an advocacy office, it is more about becoming a university office.

"It's a lengthy process," she said. "We have to think about what the students aren't getting that an advocacy office could provide."

Molock also pointed out the benefits of being a student organization. She said students often have more control of their organization, and the climate of CSU advocacy is changing.

"There is more integration," she said. "There is always a need for the service, but it will be a different format. We will be serving students in a different way."

But no matter the form, CSU advocacy offices do have benefits when it comes to campus diversity.

"Our campus has come a long way," she said. "There is more focus on diversity campus-wide."

Havi Nelson, a junior theatre major, said advocacy offices are important, and each group should have the opportunity to build that community.

"It's a place where students can go to feel comfortable and express their feelings and opinions on issues," she said. "I think every group should be allowed equal opportunity and equal representation."

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