Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Services
by John Smith - Jan. 21, 2021
The proverb “experience is the best teacher” certainly resonates with Darnell Lewis,
the assistant director of Ferris State University’s Office of Multicultural Student
Services, considering that his first year in that role closed with the year 2020.
Shortly after offering support to the 34th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration and Black History Month activities on campus, Lewis, who collaborates with the Center for [email protected] Studies, LGBTQ+ Resource Center and other university departments and offices, joined other Ferris staff, faculty and administrators in taking their efforts virtual in response to COVID-19.
“We used to base many activities in the OMSS lobby, whether that was a short session with an individual in a registered student organization, or a meeting with the United Greek Council, the Black Greek Council or some other group,” Lewis said. “Zoom Pro became a way to make as close a connection as possible with these contacts so that we could continue our work in a safe and manageable method.”
Lewis and the organizers of Women’s History Month activities suddenly found themselves as change agents in March, as the implications of offering scheduled events through new and socially distanced means became necessary.
“It was necessary to either change or cancel elements of the programming schedule that was planned,” Lewis said. “A Women of Achievement panel of faculty members and university staff was our first virtual event, where a great deal of effort was made to be as engaging and empowering as possible, despite it requiring a sudden change in delivery.”
Darnell used similar strategies to support campus groups in their outreach efforts to students doing classwork remotely and met with leadership teams of fraternities and sororities during the Spring 2020 semester.
“We were able to offer a ‘Color of Music’ lip-sync presentation, as part of the Black History Month activities at Ferris,” Lewis said. “This was previous to the changes brought about by the pandemic. It was well attended and enjoyable. There were exciting performances to highlight entertainers from 50 years ago to now. We also had a speaker at the event to promote academic achievement.”
Lewis also was active during the summer preparing for DEAL, Diversity awareness, Engagement experiences, Academic enhancement and Leadership skills. In late August, participants arrived and the program began.
“We collaborated with the Promesa Scholars program, in the Center for [email protected] Studies, Ferris’ TIP or Tuition Incentive Program and LEAD, which strives toward these same goals for students in Education,” Lewis said. “Students who are of the first generation attending college in their families and other under-represented areas took part in programming ahead of the typical move-in day, to help them feel welcome and acclimated with Ferris. We have reviewed David Pilgrim and Franklin Hughes’ book ‘Haste to Rise,’ and engaged in other programs. These students live in the shared space on two floors of McNerney hall and we are learning together, and growing, thanks to these opportunities.”
Ferris’ recently established Anti-Violence Alliance is another partner in DEAL programming, according to Lewis.
“We have been working with Violence Prevention Coordinator Raven Hills to meet every other Wednesday with these students,” Lewis said. “Katie Courtright, of Housing and Residence Life, has been very supportive in working with resident assistants, and the HRL is working to promote DEAL during Dawg Days, so incoming students are aware of the opportunity. We hope to have an even more inclusive program to offer those who join us in the summer of 2021.”
Mixed in with these many duties is Lewis’ accepting an advisory role to Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge, a multicultural organization that formed with 11 members.
“They came to me, after the move away from campus, set aside their Executive Board elections,” Lewis said. “I agreed to support BLACK’s preparations for the current academic year. I was impressed by their moving quickly to take up community service events and establish an agenda of programs.”
When Fall 2020 classes began, Darnell was active on behalf of the OMSS, making himself available to faculty members in the Social Work and Sports Communication programs and making the rounds to Ferris State University Seminar (FSUS) classes before they shifted to virtual.
“Students, especially our freshmen, need to know what the OMSS office is and can offer them,” Lewis said. “Our office appreciates the chance to get before students, so they understand how there is help available to start or support a group activity, or just find others who are looking to experience growth as part of a campus community. As we headed back to virtual sessions, I know from peers on campus that boosting participation and building interest in these programs is sometimes difficult, but staying positive is absolutely necessary and important to meet our goals, toward investment in every student and group.”
The fall semester also saw Lewis supporting Hispanic Heritage Month activities.
“We have a Hispanic Student Organization, along with the United Greek Council that were recently established,” Lewis said. “Along with the CLS, we worked together and accepted the challenge of making the LatinXPO a success, or building an audience for virtual tours of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, that was focused on the interconnectedness of Latinx, Afro Latinx and African-American communities.”
Lewis said he knows the staff of the CLS and Ferris LGBTQ+ Resource Center are a phone call, email or text away, as they make sure students in any aspect of their collegiate experience know what is available to them.
“I am glad to have the input of Kaylee Burke, in CLS, and Sarah Doherty, from LGBTQ+, as well as their staff,” Lewis said. “We all want to provide new and engaging programs and our collaborative spirit is helping us to achieve those intentions.”
Darnell was born in Detroit, and raised in the Farmington Hills area. He is a University of Michigan graduate who continued in Ann Arbor, earning his Master of Social Work, while working at their Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives for two years.
John Smith is the communications specialist in the News Services and Social Media
department of University Advancement and Marketing.
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