Organization promotes campus unity

John Brown University has long accepted students from across the globe. Only recently has JBU set up an organization to specifically address the needs of this widely-varied group.

Faculty and students collaborated last semester to create MOSAIC, Multicultural Organization of Students Active in Christ. The group designed MOSAIC to fill and expand beyond the role of the former African Heritage International Fellowship.

MOSAIC will seek to provide opportunities for students of all ethnic backgrounds, said Steve Beers, vice president of student development. Many members of the organization emphasized that MOSAIC is open to everyone, and will provide opportunities for people to share and learn from each other.

Last year, a few students approached Marquita Smith, assistant professor of journalism, about the old fellowship, concerned that the club had fizzled out to almost no activity. After alumna Rayniesha Robinson, who had led the fellowship graduated in 2005, the group was mostly inactive.

Smith said she totally understands why students felt a need to come together. It shouldn’t be viewed as a negative or a separation on campus, but as another way we can celebrate our oneness in Christ, she explained.

“Unless you’ve been in a situation where you are one of a few, it’s extremely difficult to understand the personal and emotional challenges that minorities feel,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, they often don’t want share their stories out of fear of being labeled as complainers or ungrateful. MOSAIC is an organization designed to promote understanding and to support such students on campus.”

One such student, sophomore Bridgette Ojo, tried early on to get Smith to sponsor the fellowship. Smith and faculty had something a bit bigger in mind, though.

Smith, along with other faculty and staff, worked to come up with MOSAIC, a group not designed specifically for African Americans but to support all minority groups. Beers said he ran the idea by the students last semester and they agreed. Students met informally with Smith for months developing a plan on how the organization should move forward. Currently, MOSAIC meets on Fridays at 4 p.m. in Learning Resource Complex 148.
Smith co-sponsors the new organization with Billy Stevenson, director of international admissions and student services. Ojo was elected president, and the group has grown to include more students outside of the small officer group of four.

Sophomore Broderick Wilson, vice president of MOSAIC, also approached Smith last spring at a basketball game, hoping to establish a presence on campus. Wilson revived the African Heritage International Fellowship early last semester without funding, but decided that it was best to promote unity among the groups Students met for lunch every day and played games over the weekends.

Wilson explained how prejudice on campus is still a problem. Sometimes when he greets people they respond by giving rude looks, and others simply avoid his path.

“I wouldn’t really blame them,” Wilson said. “It’s pretty much a part of American roots as far as segregating, so it’s not a surprise. Yet I think that there has to be some way that you can put that to the side. I think MOSAIC can create a bridge for that on campus.”

Wilson hopes that in the future MOSAIC can expand not just to the Siloam Springs community, but someday even beyond that, to cities in Northwest Arkansas like Fayetteville and Rogers.

Before the creation of MOSAIC, the African Heritage International Fellowship used to have a greater presence on campus. Beers, who had helped with the fellowship for many years, explained that this group itself was not exclusive to blacks, but on a given night when they met there might be several whites visiting with the rest.

Beers also explained that one of the problems with the fellowship was that since it was a club and not an organization, its level of activity ebbed and flowed. If students wanted to put effort into doing something, things happened. But many times things just went by the wayside when there wasn’t enough interest.

As an organization, the group will have constant funding, officers, a stipend from the university and faculty support. This will allow the group’s activities to be more consistent as years go by.

“We have an extremely important portion of our population on our campus that we want to make sure is supported, encouraged,” Beers said.

MOSAIC hosted its first event of the year in celebration of Black History Month, complete with Soul Food day in the cafeteria on Feb. 15. Also that night was the first showing of a three-part documentary entitled “Race: The Power of an Illusion.” Students and faculty had open discussion after the viewing. The next two parts of the series will be held at 7:00 p.m. in LRC room 121, on Feb. 22 and 29.

Sophomore Mikael Seamans, secretary of MOSAIC, said that the organization wanted to offer a platform for everyone to be heard. He said: “Everyone can share their opinion and realize that we all have something in common. We can all come together and help each other out for the greater good.”