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President's Blog: From the Heart

Place at the Table

By Eric F. Spina

(This commentary originally appeared in the University of Dayton Magazine, which featured the 50-year influence of the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center.)

In a time of much discussion about racial injustice across our nation, we quietly welcomed the most socioeconomically and racially diverse student body in University of Dayton history, setting new records in Black, Latinx/Hispanic/Chicanx and Asian American enrollment.

UD is intentionally focused on excellence and thus is striving to be a more diverse, inclusive and equitable campus. With humility, I realize we have a long way to go, but we’ve had a longstanding commitment to this vision.

For exactly 50 years now, one center on campus has been a powerful voice at the table, helping underrepresented students succeed and find their own place at the table. What began as the African and Afro-American Program in 1970 has evolved into the Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center. A fixture in Alumni Hall, MEC is a home away from home for all students, with a special emphasis on students from multicultural backgrounds.

You don’t have to look far to realize its impact. At a virtual farewell gathering this summer for longtime student development leader, former director and three-time UD graduate Dr. Daria Jackson Graham ’94, alumni and students Zoomed in to express heartfelt — and at times tearful — gratitude for the support they found in this center. When the pandemic this spring forced students home for remote learning, the center offered daily virtual MEC Lounge hours to extend support and build solidarity across the miles, an effort that will continue throughout the fall.

In no small measure, MEC has helped UD take meaningful steps in our quest to diversify the campus to better reflect the world graduates will enter. As a first-year student, Dr. Graham was one of just 75 Black students in the entire University. This fall, more than double that number began their University journey, prompting the student group Black Action Through Unity to produce a powerful video showing the new class how they belong here.

Over the years, MEC has served countless students of color, providing a space for reflection, dialogue, academic support, mentoring, cultural programming — and simply hanging out. For many multicultural students, it is the center of their UD experience, but its reach is expanding to touch all students on campus through programming that reflects UD’s family spirit and emphasis on social justice for the common good.

“All students can engage in learning how to be an ally, and there needs to be a space where people are having this dialogue,” says newly named executive director Mérida Allen. “The work of MEC is not only to empower and support underrepresented students but also to provide an educational space for all members of our community.”

I couldn’t agree more, particularly as we implement The Flyers Plan for Community Excellence — a comprehensive four-year plan for guiding diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives — and live out our pledge to be an anti-racist institution, which means we will continue to be actively conscious about race and racism and take actions to end racial inequities.

At this inflection point in UD’s history, I’m grateful for MEC’s work in helping the University build a bigger table to welcome more diverse voices — and build richer educational experiences for all.

(Please join the University of Dayton community from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, for a virtual gala celebrating MEC’s influence over half a century. The event will honor alumni, current and former staff, leaders, students and families. Take a walk down memory lane, hear about MEC’s impact from current and former students, and share in the vision for our future work. To attend the Zoom event, visit https://bit.ly/2TGUQvp, password MEC Lounge. For more information, contact mec@udayton.edu).

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