University Celebrates Fifth Anniversary of Inclusivity Center

Inclusivity Research Center 5th Anniversary
October 11, 2023

The fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Inclusivity Resource Center (IRC) was an opportunity for the St. John’s University community to celebrate the spirit of diversity that is at the heart of its Vincentian mission.

Overseen by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which held an anniversary celebration on October 2, the IRC provides students with resources to assist in peer dialogue on topics of equity and inclusion, including social justice and cross-cultural communication. The center hosts several ethnic celebrations throughout the year and is home to Project AIM, the University’s mentoring program for international students. 

“The center has opened me up to so many people and experiences,” said Mahalee Dalisay, a junior from Santa Clarita, CA, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Moving from California to here, this has given me a safe space to call home.”

“I’m so grateful we can all come together and learn about each other’s cultures,” Mahalee continued.

Mahalee and her family are Filipino American, one of more than a dozen ethnicities represented at the IRC. Students can use its quiet areas for study, but can also reserve its community room for group gatherings, training sessions, and lunch meetings that address minority issues or issues that are consistent with the University’s overall mission.

The idea for the center, located in Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, began in 2015 when students asked the University administration for a space dedicated to cross-cultural education. Three years later, the center opened its doors.

The IRC now hosts annual campus events to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month in September and October; Native and Indigenous Heritage Month in November; Women’s History Month and Disability Awareness Month in March; and Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in April. Each February it hosts a Martin Luther King Legacy Dinner as part of its recognition of Black History Month.

“The original inspiration for this space was the students,” said Manouchkathe Cassagnol, Pharm.D., BCPS, AACC, Clinical Professor, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, and Director, Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion. “I want to thank the students who now continue to lead in this space. To me, this is where possibilities begin.”

The anniversary event began with an informational session that introduced new students to the center’s history and mission. Rev. Aidan R. Rooney, C.M., M.Div., M.Th. ’78NDC, Executive Vice President for Mission, led a prayer that called on members of the St. John’s community to welcome all in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul.

The IRC later held a barbecue behind Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall that featured a DJ, photo booths, and an appearance by Johnny Thunderbird. Students were asked to contribute items for a time capsule to be opened at an undetermined future date.

“We are building a culture that calls ourselves a community of belonging—a goal to which we journey,” Fr. Rooney said. “The only way we get there is if we allow all of the experiences of human persons to be safe, to be true, to be welcome, and to be recognized for who they are.”

Center leaders echoed Fr. Rooney’s welcome message. Elizabeth Ponce de Leon, Assistant Director of Culture and Identity-Based Services, Office of Multicultural Affairs, said the best example of the IRC’s success resides in the growth of the students who found a home there.

“Some of the first students we had here just graduated in May,” Ms. Ponce de Leon said. “To see them grow to be so confident and to know they were so comfortable during their time at St. John’s is a great reward.”

Rachel Pereira, Ed.D., J.D., Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, anticipates even greater rewards in the future. “This center reminds us regularly that our students are our greatest resource,” she said. “I’m excited about what’s to come and how we can move forward.”