At the University of Pennsylvania the United Minorities Council was created in 1978 as an organization to advocate on behalf of students who felt their voices weren’t being heard on campus.
Working closely with student groups and University administration, the UMC participates in dealing with a variety of issues.
The UMC’s role has evolved to include supporting and collaborating with cultural organizations across campus to help foster intercultural understanding. The UMC also assists such groups in planning ethnic heritage month events and other programs that celebrate Penn’s diversity.
“In order to truly and fully benefit from diversity, there has to be a way for students from disparate backgrounds from all walks of life to really be able to understand each other,” says Joyce Kim, UMC chair.
The UMC works closely with the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, the Latino Coalition, Lamda Alliance and Umoja, the umbrella organization for black student groups, to discuss issues that impact minority students.
Housed in the Greenfield Intercultural Center, the UMC gives students a safe place to discuss issues and to work together.
“At Penn, students are invited to the table to be part of the conversation,” says Valerie DeCruz, director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center. “Students can develop an ability to negotiate institutional culture, to communicate and articulate positions to help enhance the campus experience.”
The UMC has led the way in addressing some sensitive issues of identity by holding public forums on campus.
“When there was the controversy over the newly crowned Miss America, Nina Davuluri, who’s Indian American, we thought this was an important subject to highlight,” says Kim.
To commemorate the organization’s 35th anniversary, the UMC has planned events throughout November for Unity Month.
A Writing About Identity workshop will be led by poet Carlos Andres Gomez, and the “One Mic” spoken word event will be a collaboration of student groups including the UMC, the Race Dialogue Project and the Exelano Project. At the event, students are invited to share their stories.
Other events during the month include the African Rhythms and Dhamaka dance groups holding workshops and performances for Philadelphia children.