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RapidChat: Christina Arnold

Director of the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center at Grand Rapids Community College, Christina Arnold is the granddaughter of migrant workers from Mexico who became contributing members of the community after making this city their home. As she begins her final year with the college, she chats with Rapid Growth about the annual Diversity Lecture Series at GRCC and shares her perspective on inclusion and equity in West Michigan.
Chris Arnold

Director of the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center at Grand Rapids Community College, Christina Arnold is the granddaughter of migrant workers from Mexico who became contributing members of the community after making this city their home. As she begins her final year with the college, she chats with Rapid Growth about the annual Diversity Lecture Series at GRCC and shares her perspective on inclusion and equity in West Michigan.
Rapid Growth: Can you give me a brief overview of what the Woodrick Diversity Learning Center provides to Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) and the Greater Grand Rapids community?
 
Christina Arnold: The Woodrick Diversity Learning Center offers a comprehensive, integrated, cross-cultural approach to diversity inclusion. Thousands of faculty, staff, students and community members benefit annually from our wide selection of diversity driven programs - many of which receive support through efforts of community collaboration and partnerships. The Diversity Learning Center embraces and promotes the celebration of human differences through its programs and activities in support of increased social justice and equity among all people.
 
RG: What series of occurrences brought you into the role of Director of Diversity at the Learning Center?
 
CA: I had some significant mentors and role models as I moved from student, to secretary, to administrator; former GRCC Dean Elias Lumpkins never failed to encourage me as my career at GRCC unfolded. But my understanding and interest in diversity is also personal. My work in the field of social justice and cultural understanding has been impacted by family identity and early experiences. I grew up in a single parent household with six siblings and grandparents who were migrant workers from Mexico, prior to settling in Grand Rapids back in the 1940s. My grandparents became significant contributing members of the Grand Rapids community through civic and social engagement. 

I saw, and continue to see, bigotry and economic inequities both as personal and social challenges. As I have gained greater experiences and have grown in my perspectives and knowledge I am keenly aware of the breadth of pain and struggles for all who are not comfortably part of the mainstream.
 
RG: During your time as director, what are some of the most insightful things you have learned about diversity within Grand Rapids?
 
CA: While there is a strong desire on the part of the community to become a more welcoming and inclusive area, we do have some work to do. It is easier to gather the data on inequities, say in health care and educational achievement to name but two; it is far more difficult to determine the structural and institutional policies or systems that may unintentionally support the existing structure.
 
RG: Your department offers a Diversity Lecture Series that has been around for nearly 20 years. What do you think has led it to be so prosperous?
 
CA: The Diversity Lecture Series is intended to give insight and understanding of multicultural issues to the West Michigan Community. The series is designed to introduce an essential component of education in helping audiences consider perspectives other than their own, encouraging civil debate, broadening the basis for critical thought, and promoting cultural understanding. The community is always hungry for knowledge and to listen to conversation that may not occur often in their daily routines.
 
RC: What have been some of the most inspiring stories you have heard over the years?
 
CA: This is difficult to answer, as each speaker has had a significant impact in various ways and often different ways with different communities. Sometimes a speaker is targeting a certain group, such as young people, and ends having a surprising impact on others in the audience. It is particularly heartfelt when students share their own personal story and how the speaker and topic has given them a new way to see and feel about their own experiences. It has been shown over and over again how vital it is to see that you are not the “only one” who has felt a certain way, or been treated in a way that you can’t understand. It was a significant honor to have Former President Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter on campus for the 100th Anniversary of GRCC and the 20th Anniversary of the Diversity Lecture Series. One of the highlights was getting a kiss on the cheek from President Carter!
 
RC: How did you go about selecting the 2015-16 speakers?
 
CA: The Diversity Lecture Selection Team is comprised of faculty, staff, student and community members. We also partner with GRCC departments, most recently with the Social Sciences Department, with the intention of supporting their particular interests or annual conference topics. In general, speakers are chosen to reflect contemporary topics of concern. We invite lecturers who can effectively share their learned perspectives to help deepen our knowledge, understanding and cultural competency skills and support the mission of the college. Speakers are nationally or internationally recognized as experts on their topics.  
 
RC: Not to play favorites, but is there any speaker that you are particularly interested in hearing from during this year’s series?
 
CA: Although I am excited to meet and hear all of our speakers for the 21st year, I had the opportunity to hear and meet Mr. Henry Munoz at TEDxGrandRapids. I was very inspired by Mr. Munoz’s story as it related to me personally, and the struggles of many of Latino families. 
 
RC: The 2015-16 school year is just around the corner as well. What are some of your goals, personally and as a department, for this upcoming school year?
 
CA: Well, actually I will be retiring early from GRCC in the fall of 2016, so I will be working this upcoming year to make sure the infrastructure of the mission and work of the center is strong and ready for new leadership or new direction. There are many here in the college who support the center and its rich history and its decades of impact on the college and the area, therefore, I am confident the work will proceed. For myself, I am looking forward to the next phase in my life. I will be continuing to seek opportunities to be involved in the West Michigan community, both by working and volunteer opportunities. It will be hard in some aspects as I love GRCC and have been at the college since I was 17, not to mention, my car has been on automatic pilot to drive downtown every day for the past thirty-six years.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
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