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The History of Multicultural Services & Programs

Out of a desire to address the concerns of African American students at the University of Georgia, representatives from the Presidential Minority Advisory Committee (Maurice Daniels, Bryndis Roberts, Louise Tomlinson, Norman Harris, and Kathryn Davis), staff member Vanessa Williams Smith, and representatives from the Black Affairs Council (Charlita Stephens Walker and Benjamin Roundtree) met with then President Charles Knapp to establish the African American Cultural Center.  With the aid and support of Dr. Dwight Douglas, then Vice President of Student Affairs, however, the Department of Minority Services and Programs was formed.


Minority Services and Programs (MSP) opened its doors in September 1989, under the direction of Assistant Director Vanessa Williams Smith.  After careful search Dr. Leslie K. Bates, who served as the Associate Dean of Students at East Michigan University, was chosen as the first director of MSP.  Under the leadership of Dr. Bates and Ms. Smith, several student organizations became a part of the office and fell under their advisement. 

These groups included the Black Affairs Council (BAC), Pamoja (dance troupe), and the Black Theatrical Ensemble (BTE).  Realizing that retention of African American students would be a major factor in the life of the department, a peer education mentoring organization was also formed.  Black Educational Support Team (BEST) would work with students—particularly incoming freshman—to help them adjust to college life.

During this time several initiatives were spearheaded with the goal of creating a diverse environment at the University of Georgia.  These initiatives included the creation of L.E.A.D., an organization focused on the development of student leaders); Kross Kultures News Magazine; ProAct, a program that provided computerized access to graduate school; and the “Rising Junior” program, an initiative designed to prepare students for upper-level challenges.  Signature programming included Multi-Racial UGA, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Service, Student March, and Black History Quarter (an extension of the annual Black History Month celebration to an entire quarter).

Another noteworthy accomplishment of MSP would be the reactivation of the academic honor society Abeneefoo Kuo (ABK).  ABK would recognize the academically talented amongst the African American students at the university.

The Hispanic Student Association was founded by Ms. Melissa Sult and is still the largest Latino organization on campus.  The organization work toward bring cultural awareness to the Latino and non-Latino communities at the University of Georgia.
The African American Cultural Center (AACC) was opened in January 1995, with Mrs. Kimberly Johnson-Thomas as its first coordinator.  The mission of the AACC was to create an environment of cultural growth, sensitivity, and appreciation of African American history and contributions of the African Diaspora.  The Cultural Center hosted the African American Diaspora Lecture Series, Liberation Lecture Series, Artist in Residence Program, Pamoja Dance Company, Black Theatrical Ensemble, and other exhibits from local, national, and international artists.

Dr. Sherwood Thompson joined Minority Services & Programs as director in place of Dr. Bates.  Previously, Dr. Thompson had served as the Director of Minority Affairs at the University of Kansas.  In this same year, Ms. Kimberly Roberts was hired as the second Coordinator of the African American Cultural Center.

During his tenure Dr. Thompson developed the Research Center on Ethnic Minorities in Higher Education and sought to increase collaboration with various departments including African American Studies and African Studies. 


Dr. Sherwood Thompson left the University of Georgia that spring and was replaced by Ms. Vanessa Williams Smith, who served as Director of MSP from 2001 to 2006.  Williams Smith continued to lay bricks of progress and created a legacy that built bridges for others to cross.

Ms. Smith partnered with the Greene County school system in the development of the Greensboro Dreamer program.  This program allowed UGA students to go once weekly to Greensboro, GA, to tutor elementary students.  Under Ms. Smith’s leadership, the Black Educational Support Team (BEST) flourished into one of the premier organizations on campus. MSP also hosted the annual MLK Week of Celebration during this time.

Ms. Vanessa Williams Smith also continued MSP’s corporate partnership with Phillip Morris, which guaranteed a substantial contribution to the office each year.  Additionally, Smith and MSP renamed the Recognition of Excellence Award to honor the first MSP director, Dr. Leslie K. Bates.  The L. K. Bates Recognition of Excellence Award acknowledged students, faculty, staff, and community partners for their contributions to the success of the department.  Notable recipients include Phillip Morris, Judge Patricia Brown, Dr. Tracey Ford, and Mr. Victor K. Wilson (former Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs).  

Premal Amin along with five other students created the Indian Culture Exchange.  Over the years, student leaders have tirelessly worked toward uniting students of Indian ethnic background and those who have interest in the Indian culture through activities that invoke cultural and social involvement.
Ms. Sarah Chen founded the Asian American Student Association during the 2003 school year. 
The AASA was established to provide cultural enrichment, an awareness of the contributions of Asian Americans and to offer students a forum to voice their concerns and successes at the UGA.
The Minority Services & Programs and the African American Cultural Center—were able to split and become standalone offices.  This separation allowed both offices to provide more comprehensive services to multicultural students and students of the African Diaspora.  During this time the AACC created and developed a Village Library and My Sistah’s Keeper discussion group; the AACC also collaborated with the African American Studies program to create the APERO brown bag discussion series.

The Department of Intercultural Affairs was developed as an umbrella organization to include the African American Cultural Center, International Student Life, and Multicultural Services & Programs.  The name change in 2005 from Minority to Multicultural Services & Programs reflected the changing face of the student population at the University of Georgia. 

In August 2006, Marisela Martinez and Jeffery Alton joined the MSP staff to serve as Director and Assistant Director, respectively.  Though they only served a brief period, each contributed significant changes.  With the assistance of Assistant Director Jeffery Alton, Mrs. Sandra Goolsby, and outstanding graduate assistants, the office embodied a sense of community and interconnectedness and accomplished the following:

  • Adding more culturally representative artwork in and around the office
  • Naming and completing the Hall of Peace and Revolution with representatives from the ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, Native American) communities, allies, disability advocates, and women’s rights movements
  • Encouraging the Black Affairs Council to collaborate with other MSP student organizations for Unity Ball
  • Developing and organizing the R.E.A.L. Talks that covered a wide range of topics such as interfaith dialogue, multiracial identity, and LGBTQIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Questioning) experiences across cultures
  • Creating an inclusive resource library filled with videos representing various identities and experiences
  • Supporting the creation of LISTo (Latinos Investing in the Students of Tomorrow)
  • Inviting a series of guest speakers and programs that would appeal to many groups at once

Latinos Investing in the Students of Tomorrow (LISTo) was founded in 2006 by members of Students for Latin@ Empowerment (SLE) through Office of Institutional Diversity (OID).  The advisement of the organization moved to MSP in 2007.  This mentoring organization was created to provide academic, social, and emotional support for incoming Latino and Latina first year students.
From 2006 to 2008, the office hosted several key programs and events including The Voices and Faces of America and brought several key speakers to campus including Lee Mun Wah, director of The Color of Fear, and Tim Wise, renowned anti-racism activist.  The office desired not only more diversity but also social justice.

In August, Multicultural Services & Programs underwent staffing changes with the advent of Mrs. Cynthia Polk-Johnson as Director and Mr. Michael B. Jackson as the Assistant Director. 

In July, the office reunited with the African American Cultural Center to provide more inclusive and collaborative programming for all students. Since coming into the office, Mrs. Polk-Johnson and Mr. Jackson spearheaded the chartering of the UGA’s chapter of Sustained Dialogue which is an affiliate of the Sustained Dialogue Network headquartered in Washington DC.

In September Multicultural Services and Programs celebrated its 20th Anniversary with a “Continuing Our Legacy” host of weekend events. The opening event was a Panel Discussion including the first African American graduate from UGA, Ms. Mary Francis Early, first director of MSP, Dr. L. K. Bates, and other members of faculty, staff, and executive board members of student organizations. During this event, Georgia House of Representative, Keith Heard presented MSP with A Resolution that reads in part “Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved that the impressive history of multicultural services and programs at the University of Georgia is hereby recognized and commended.”
The UGA Chapter of Sustained Dialogue was founded in 2009.  Its mission is to transform relationships among UGA students through dialogue addressing tensions related to, but not limited to, race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, and other diversity-related issues.


In July, MSP extended it services with the support of the Division of Student Affairs by becoming the host office within the Campus Life Department by assisting W.R. Coile Middle School with its academic quest for excellence and student achievement with an on-campus tutoring/mentoring program.

In August, Ms. Valerie Brown joined the Multicultural Services and Programs staff to serve as the Assistant Director.  She came to us from the College of William and Mary where she served as the Assistant Director of the Center for Student Diversity.

After conducting a national search, in January Mr. Miguel A. Hernandez joined the Office of Multicultural Services and Programs as Director.  Previously, Mr. Hernandez served as the Associate Director for the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement at Florida State University. 

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University of Georgia Camous Life & the Office of the Dean of Students Division of Student Affairs