Multiculturalism from a Student Perspective
Ryan Maltese is juggling many hats as a husband, father, and educator, depending on the day. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia when it was a different city, mostly more black and white. The environment was challenging given that he was a racially mixed kid growing up in the predominately black southwest part of town and attending a predominately white school on the north side of town. Ryan attended college in the Midwest back in the 90’s and went to law school. He practiced for a little while and then ended up working in higher education administration for over a decade.
Before his arrival at Georgia State University, he served as executive director of student activities and university events at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University located in Greensboro, North Carolina. Currently, he is working on his doctorate in education policy at Georgia State. Eventually, Ryan looks forward to returning back to higher education administration. With his demanding schedule, he has attended several events sponsored by the Multicultural Center.
Ryan was present when the center first opened, and he was excited about the programs it would bring on campus. His favorite event was the Dick Gregory conversation at the 32nd Annual MLK Commemoration. Though he has seen Gregory speak a few times, Ryan thought Gregory brought a really important message to the students. In addition, he eluded to the impact from the community representation which is not seen as much on campus. Ryan is very impressed with the schedule of events sponsored by the Multicultural Center given the diversity at the university. This affords almost every student the opportunity to explore various aspects of culture, religion, sexuality, race and gender without concern for judgement or othering. He believes these events are a critical piece of the undergraduate experience and he applauds the staff for coordinating a robust and inclusive calendar of events. Given the narrative going on in this country and the turmoil we see throughout the world, he knows that these programs have offered a space whereby students can find some intellectual engagement and a better, more thorough understanding of current events and the roles they can play in helping to make a difference. In seeking new knowledge gained by attending the Multicultural Center sponsored events, one of the most significant things the center has done is keeping up with the current affairs through its campus conversations.
Society has become a lot more focused on the idea of being so individualized, especially through social media and the constant focus of self coupled with a general desensitization to the things that do not seem to affect us. So often, there are disconnects between the undergraduate generation and national world events. The events that are sponsored by the Multicultural Center continue to keep the conversation moving forward. In essence, they do a great job of celebrating the uniqueness of humanity in all its identities, and this is very important for the next generation of leaders. Moreover, his view regarding the impact of the center’s events is that each time students walk away from the Multicultural Center program, they can take something with them which will allow them to view the world through a different lens. For example, looking at the LGBTQIQA community, most people upon coming to college do not have a clue about what each of those letters represent so that is why attending the LGBTQIQA Welcome Reception is so important to learn the meaning of those letters. Furthermore, every student gets an opportunity to explore the issues in the community. Thus, this really takes it back to the notion of everyone being connected by a variety of social forces that give us a better understanding of ourselves and others. It is the definition of what some scholars phrase cultural competence. Ryan feels the Multicultural Center does a fantastic job of allowing students a chance to explore it within themselves.
As a nontraditional student, Ryan manages work, family and school and states, “It is not easy to balance it all.” He has been married for almost ten years, has two fellowships, and has four children. To add more to his plate, he also facilitates student success workshops on campus and teaches a couple of sections of GSU 1010 throughout the academic year. One of the things about being a student, whether undergraduate or graduate, is there is never really enough time to get everything done. Prioritizing is so important, but more than that is recognizing you can only do so much. The best advice given to Ryan is to put academics first on the list. If you are a student, whether part-time or full-time, classes and school work should always be top priority because “academic success is the bridge between dreams and reality.”
Ryan is active on campus through his work at the Office of Undergraduate Studies. He loves engaging with students, and it is not uncommon to see him speaking to with students after class, in the hallways, or in his office. He believes it is important to be involved with the community in which you live. Currently, Ryan works with The Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights, which allows him to travel throughout the city talking with young people about topics such as conflict resolution, bullying, diversity, leadership, identity, intersectionality, and social justice. He thinks one of the most important things we learn as we participate in community affairs is the idea that “Service is the rent you pay to occupy your space on earth.” This particular phrase, which he got from a fortune cookie, gives him great perspective.
From a multicultural perspective, Ryan would like to see Georgia State University fulfill their potential to be one of the flagship universities of the nation. Georgia State coveys more degrees to African Americans than any other traditional college in America. With the continued growth of the Latino population and the consolidation with Georgia Perimeter College, the university will by far be one of the most culturally diverse institutions of higher learning in the world. This means a lot to Ryan and other students as well. Though Ryan’s mother graduated from the university almost half a century ago, no one during this time could have ever envisioned such a magnanimous evolution. Ryan hopes the legacy keeps moving forward but understands this is indicative of the student body now populating its space. While he is not sure what exactly he wants for the city, the country, and the world, he is able to recognize the amount of suffering that goes on all around us in every “nook and cranny” on this planet. This reminds him of the tremendous challenge of creating positive change wherever we go. He also understands that each of us play a vital part in how the global narrative is written. Moreover, each of us owes a debt to society and we must ensure that we leave a better place behind for those that follow, regardless of what we inherited and endured. Ryan believes this “is the only way to make the world better.”
Ryan was privileged to partake in the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the March of Selma. He greatly enjoyed the March activities and celebration. The activities allowed him to reflect on how far we have come as a society. He grew up with many of the Atlanta Civil Rights leader’s children, including the son of Congressman John Lewis. Ryan served on Georgia State’s planning committee for the First Year Book Program. The book by Congressmen John Lewis titled “March” was selected for the 2014-2015 academic year. He was impressed with the university’s academic integrity by stepping outside the traditional expectations of the academy and selecting a graphic novel, recognizing it really would connect with the new generation of learners. Considering that Atlanta is the mecca for the civil rights movement, Ryan feels that we, as members of the university, have a responsibility to understand just how significant this movement was in the creation of America as a destination for freedom and opportunity.
In regards to the March on Selma, it was a personal experience for Ryan. He took a group of college students to the actual festivities a few weeks ago as a representative of Dr. Joseph E. Lowery. In essence, he knew how impactful the experience was to the students. Ryan felt “it reinforces the debt we owe for what we have been honored to see in our lives and the many people who afforded us that privilege through the sacrifice of their hard work, blood and in many instances, their lives.”
Looking toward the future, Ryan plans to be back in the workforce in five years. He loves being in higher education, both as a teacher and mentor, but more importantly as a lifelong learner. He hopes to be back in a university setting that can offer some of the same multicultural engagement that he now gets at Georgia State University. He enjoys witnessing young minds tap into their full potential and realize goals, dreams and desires they would not have thought possible. For Ryan, education is the fulfillment of intellectual curiosity. He encourages us to ask the important questions. Ryan states, “if we do not ask the important questions and critically examine the answers, then why are we here? Why are we at Georgia State University?”