Campus Cultural Centers Merging as Part of Student Affairs Reorganization

Campus Cultural Centers Merging as Part of Student Affairs Reorganization

By Alexis BlueUniversity Communications
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Melissa Vito, vice president for Student Affairs
Melissa Vito, vice president for Student Affairs

The University of Arizona's four major student cultural centers will be combined into one all-inclusive community center this summer as part of a reorganization of the Student Affairs division.

The change is just one aspect of a plan that will save the division more than $1 million.

Native American Student Affairs, Asian Pacific American Student Affairs, African American Student Affairs, and Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs will merge, along with the offices for LGBTQ Affairs, the Women's Resource Center and the position of social justice coordinator, creating one multicultural community center, said Kendal Washington White, who will act as interim director for the center, which is yet to be named.

The move will place existing cultural centers in one physical location, will centralize some of the functions of those centers and will eliminate Student Affairs' department of Multicultural Affairs and Student Success, or MASS.

The merger will allow for greater collaboration between the cultural groups on campus, said White, who currently serves as director of MASS and who worked on the Student Affairs reorganization team.

"We want to make diversity a campuswide issue," White said. "Today's students see diversity differently than maybe I did when I started college in 1985. The millennial generation doesn't want to separate themselves; they want to work collaboratively to learn about issues using social justice as a model."

The change may take some getting used to for students who spend a lot of time studying or socializing at the existing campus cultural centers.

Candace Begody, a senior majoring in journalism, said the Native American Student Affairs Center has been her "home away from home" since she started at the UA. She said the people she met there helped her make the transition from life on a small American Indian reservation to life at a major university.

However, Begody said she sees the benefit of combining the cultural centers to cut costs and said she's excited to see how the new format will work.

"I think it's something new and scary, but it's a great time to make some positive changes at the University," she said.

Positive change was just what Student Affairs officials say they had in mind when they began work on a reorganizational plan last summer, before the official launch of the University-wide Transformation Plan that aims to restructure the way campus conducts business. 

Student Affairs is currently composed of 15 campus units – including major student-focused departments such as Enrollment Management, Student Retention, Residence Life, the Dean of Students Office and Campus Health.

Multicultural Affairs was just one focus area in the planning effort, which was led by Melissa Vito, vice president for Student Affairs.

The University's enrollment and admissions functions were also reviewed and Student Affairs has announced the development of a Next Steps Center to help guide incoming students through the process of joining the UA community.

The center will help incoming students prepare for their arrival on campus by serving as a physical and online hub of information on issues like on- and off-campus living, tuition and fees, new student orientation and other key administrative processes.

"Right now, students call a variety of offices, and a lot of people get lost in the process," said Kasey Urquidez, director of undergraduate recruitment, who worked on the planning committee for the Next Steps Center. "Often students and parents want some hand-holding through the process."

The University's existing Admissions Call Center will expand to become the Next Steps Center, Urquidez said.

Another new initiative, dubbed the Transitions area, will focus on providing a collection of services to assist students once they are part of the UA.

The Transitions umbrella will consist of existing departments that help UA students through their University experience, including Early Academic Outreach, New Student Orientation, Convocation, Commencement and Undergraduate Initiatives. The Office of Orientation will be eliminated.

A major goal of Transitions will be to help freshmen navigate their first year on campus, White said. One idea is a program that would divide incoming freshmen into groups of 50 students. Each student cohort would have access to support from a UA faculty member, staff member and peer student adviser, White said. 

Another key Transitions element will be the development of a Web site to help students manage their college experience from orientation to commencement. The goal is to create a Web presence that's like a combination of Facebook, Google and Student Link that will promote interaction between students and employees, White said.

Finally, Student Affairs intends to centralize its learning support services – including free tutoring, academic coaching and supplemental instruction – through a new Student Learning Center, led by the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques, or S.A.L.T., Center, which serves students with learning and attention challenges. The University Learning Center will be eliminated as a result. 

The overall reorganization, which reduces the number of physical facilities maintained by Student Affairs and restructures some administrative, business, leadership and information technology support services, will amount to a savings of more than $1 million for the division.

"When we began this process last August, our goal was to reorganize our division to maximize our impact on the UA student experience by leveraging the strengths of our division while reducing spending. However, the dire budgetary situation that impacts our nation, state and University has become a driving force of the transformation as our process has progressed," Vito wrote in a memo to Student Affairs staff outlining the reorganization. 

While the changes will result in the loss of 20 positions in the division, 11 new positions will be created, according to the memo. New positions will be available first to current Student Affairs employees and division employees are expected to know their job status by early this month.

The new organizational structure will be effective July 1. Physical locations for the new programs are yet to be determined.

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