Center for Multicultural Student Services Celebrates 25 Years


Valarie Ghant, director of James Madison University's Center for Multicultural Student Services, likes to say, "Diversity is like a door-hinge that swings both ways." Twenty-five years ago CMSS opened that door to minority students looking for a community and to a university looking to expand its diversity programming.

Located in Warren Hall for all of its 25 years, CMSS did not start out as the bustling center it is today. The first director, Byron Bullock, currently associate vice-chancellor for student affairs and campus life, University of Massachusetts Amherst, said, "When I got there it was in bad shape � we had no staff, a small space and the furniture was falling apart." 

Bullock was responsible for shepherding minority students into and through the university. Within a few years of his arrival he had transformed the office physically and programmatically. The summer transition program, Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, faculty mentorship programs and student organization umbrella format were all started during Bullock's tenure from 1985 to 1995. 

Bullock said, "What CMSS does is create a point of intersect for students-of-color where they can feel at home but also be part of the campus community." 

James Edwards, CMSS director from 2001 to 2005, currently dean of the Office of Enrollment Management at Virginia Union University, fondly remembers spending time as an undergraduate involved in CMSS. 

"CMSS helped groom and mentor my experience at JMU and ultimately influenced my decision to work in higher education. Ultimately, I remember the spirit of love and support knowing that there were people who cared and wanted me to be successful," said Edwards. 

During Edwards' tenure as director, CMSS continued to expand its commitment to diversity by participating with the Experiential Learning Series, initiating an Alternative Spring Break trip and a College of Business class focused on multicultural competency. According to Edwards, one of the biggest highlights was the opportunity to bring the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, to campus to speak about her husband's legacy. 

Over the past 25 years the CMSS legacy is quite clear to Edwards. "I believe CMSS has been and continues to play a critical role in the growth and character of JMU. Through CMSS, the university has gained a greater understanding of how diversity awareness and education has been and continues to be one to the guiding principles of society," he said. 

Twenty-five years after opening its doors CMSS continues to expand its services to multiculural students. Ghant said in the last 25 years CMSS has seen increases in staffing, resources and in the diversity of the JMU student body. Clubs representing Asian and Latino students make up almost a third of the 28 active organizations advised by CMSS. 

"We now have a real focus on leadership development for our students and on connecting them to real-world opportunities," said Ghant. 

CMSS celebrated its 25th anniversary at a reception on Oct. 15. The event was part of JMU's Homecoming week. 

Bullock, who attended the 25th anniversary reception, said he was excited to reconnect with alumni. "CMSS alums are still so actively engaged and involved," said Bullock. "CMSS is a springboard for student involvement both during and after JMU."

Published: Monday, October 11, 2010

Last Updated: Monday, November 13, 2017

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