Facebook group helps multicultural students

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A newly-created Facebook.com group, “How are you surviving college?”, helps K-State multicultural students adjust to a university environment and promotes cross-cultural communication.

The idea for the group originated when Wen-chi Chen, the group’s coordinator and graduate assistant with the academic transition program, and Jonathan Berhow, academic councelor and PILOTS adviser, discussed the need for a new resource available to K-State multicultural students. They dreamed of a network where multicultural students could openly share their experiences about getting through college with one another.

“We looked around to see if there were any resources like that and we realized they really do not exist,” Berhow, the group’s administrator, said. “There is a lot of top-down stuff, but not a lot written by other students.”

For many multicultural students, Berhow said their first arrival at K-State can be a bit of a culture shock. They might feel isolated not seeing as many students of similar backgrounds as they did growing up and not sharing multicultural-college experiences can escalate this isolation, he said.

“One of the main things that insures academic success is contact with another human being,” Berhow said.

To create such sense of community, Judy Lynch, director of the academic assistance center, Kay Ann Taylor, assistant professor of secondary education, and Berhow wrote a grant proposal for Tilford Incentive Grants to secure resources needed to produce initial content for the Facebook group.

The grant committee approved the application because the proposed group not only promoted Tilford multicultural competencies – such as empathy, leadership and conflict resolution – but also allowed incorporation of technology to provide a valuable communication tool for students, said Juanita McGowan, assistant dean of diversity and College of Arts and Sciences associate professor.

“What we saw in [the Facebook group] was an opportunity to work with students in their social networking and to talk about multicultural challenges and experiences via technology,” McGowan said.

The committee favored implementation of student-friendly technology to promote valuable and important information for students.

“Many of the projects that we fund are curriculum infusion within the class, but this was outside the classroom,” McGowan said. “It is a new initiative to us, but one that we feel could be beneficial.”

Funding for the Facebook group was approved for the spring and fall 2009 semesters. Three student contributors, Quaumeeca Saunders, graduate student in marriage and family therapy, Paul Nyakatura, senior in management information systems and Jorge Oseguera, sophomore in sociology with an emphasis in criminology, are currently working on creating the group’s basic content.

The project consists of the main Facebook group page and a discussion board, which offers students an opportunity to comment on topics that directly affect their college life, such as dealing with roommates or finding advisers. The page also provides links to student blogs and K-State student groups that might be useful for multicultural students. The group is entirely a student effort, in which content is provided by and for students. It is an open group and anyone can join.

In addition to the group’s focus on assisting multicultural students, it creates an environment for cross-cultural communication as well.

“We did not want to go too heavy on the multicultural thing,” Berhow said. “We want this to be useful to everybody on campus. You do not accomplish cross-cultural communication unless everybody is included.”

Saunders said she joined the project because it represented a “great way” for students to get advice from their peers. Saunders said “Facebooking” is a hobby of hers and said she was interested in making the networking tool work for the benefit of students.

“I want it to be a networking resource for students to find ways to help other students,” she said.

Saunders has recently visited Africa and posted a journal about her trip titled “Once in a Lifetime” to the blog section. Saunders said she also uses many resources provided by the group.

“I wish I had this Facebook group when I was a freshman just to know what resources are there to help me as an African-American to make my transition a lot easier,” Saunders said. “I can easily relate to the group.”

Osequera said he has contributed his time to providing discussion topics for the group. Osequera said the group is very valuable because it is an informal way for students to share information.

“You are being told about information from your peers within your age group.” Osequera said. “[It is] not an adult telling you. It is a peer thing.”

Nyakatura said he is excited to be involved with the project.

“I found that there is a place for me to be able to help and show how I stay here at school through tough classes and such,” Nyakatura said.

Nyakatura said he views the group as a library with valuable resources for students. He said he wants it to become a “collaborative construction,” in which students fill in the gaps left by the initial contributors.

Currently, the group is offering three $50 awards for best contributions in open mic, blog article and photography categories. More information about the awards is available in the group’s recent news section.

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