The MSSC is working to bring cultural community from its physical building to the virtual world.
By Briahnna Brown
The sense of community at the Multicultural Student Services Center (MSSC) is a lot like a colloquial handshake, said Michael Tapscott, the center’s director.
It brings a unique warmth that transcends cultural barriers, he said, and that feeling is everything the MSSC is about.
For many George Washington University students, particularly students of color, the MSSC serves as a welcoming cultural hub where they can build community within the larger GW community, Mr. Tapscott said. The challenge now for the MSSC is to build those same relationships in a virtual space.
"So much of what translates, particularly for people of color, are those relationships, and relationships are at their best when people are next to each other, when people are engaging with each other," Mr. Tapscott said. "That human interaction is such an important part of what we do, and taking that away, it’s really hard.”
Intentionality is the lifeblood of the MSSC, Mr. Tapscott said, and that must be applied to the virtual inclusivity efforts they plan to implement this fall semester. The key to maintaining and building community has historically been the MSSC building on G Street NW. Mr. Tapscott said that the plan for the virtual learning period is for MSSC staff to “try to be the building.”
They will do this through virtual open office hours for the MSSC front desk, Mr. Tapscott said. They plan to hold similar hours to what the physical building had in the past, staying open for up to 75 hours a week for students to virtually stop by and get help with organizing events or just socialize with other students.
"We may not be 'open' from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. like we used to be, but we are working hard on becoming the same kind of caring, centralized, multiculturally focused space that we always have been," Mr. Tapscott said.
The MSSC has already utilized the virtual space to cultivate community, including the #GWInSolidarity events in June and July that offered the GW Black community an opportunity to connect, heal and express themselves in the safest possible space amid global unrest.
Signature MSSC events like the Block Party have taken on a new shape in the virtual space. The event, which is traditionally held on the first Friday of the fall semester, introduces first-year and transfer students to the more than 90 diverse student organizations available at GW while celebrating that diversity with music and food. In the virtual space, rather than condense all of those experience into one day, the MSSC expanded the Block Party over three weeks with the kick-off celebration on Sept. 4 and virtual meeting times in the following weeks for organizations in different communities to meet with students.
"The MSSC staff has shown incredible creativity and determination to stabilize the multicultural student experience with unique new approaches to programs, smaller, more personalized Webex sessions, more involvement in student org advisement, and significantly more outreach through centralized MSSC communication with the MSSC Newsletter," Mr. Tapscott said.
The annual heritage celebrations are also taking shape virtually, Mr. Tapscott said, and GW is in the midst of the Latinx Heritage Celebration, which includes a keynote address, virtual open mic night and a Netflix watch party.
The MSSC provides insights and guidance wherever it can for these student-led cultural celebrations, Mr. Tapscott said, and that will include a virtual National Coming Out Day and other LGBTQIA+ celebrations for students in October (since most students will be finished with classes during Pride Month in June). There will also be the opportunity for a virtual Native American Heritage Celebration in November.
Helping student organizations put these celebrations together is the best part of the job for Mr. Tapscott, he said.
"There's nothing that makes me happier than to see a kid say, ‘yeah, I get this. All right, cool,’ and then they go out, and they get it done,” Mr. Tapscott said. “They can come back once, they can come back never, they can come back 100 times, but the kids are progressing from that."
Mr. Tapscott said that he is looking forward to connecting and building community with students when it is safe to return to campus, and he is especially excited for "kids to come in the door and say, ‘What's up, Mr. T?’"