By Gabe Sturges
As the newly minted head of Multicultural Affairs, Jason Benitez brings optimism and proven expertise to the position at Union College.
Prior to Union, Benitez worked for seven years at SUNY Albany—five of which were spent in Residential Life and two as an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Counselor—in addition to a two-year tenure as the Coordinator of EOP and Multicultural Affairs at Schenectady County Community College.
When asked about the circumstances of his arrival at Union, Benitez explained that while at SCCC, he gained exposure to the other institutions of higher education available in Schenectady and the outlying region.
When the available position presented itself, Benitez says he welcomed the opportunity emphasized by daily interaction and the development of personal rapport with the students.
The new Multicultural Affairs position offers the opportunity to develop leadership amongst the student body while focusing specifically on issues beyond the typical implications of the word “diversity.” Namely, Benitez hopes to promote lesser known or perhaps less frequently addressed diversity topics including those of class, faith, disability and sexual orientation.
Benitez spoke eloquently and passionately about his vision for the program, citing two distinct goals: to create a “warm, supportive environment for students of color and minority groups,” and to promote the interactions of the majority group with those different from themselves.
Reflecting his personal experiences, Benitez will attempt to provide students with the guidance and programs from which he himself would have benefited as a college student. Benitez pays special focus to working with young men of African and Latino culture as a means to promote a positive cultural image. Additionally, he feels the need to develop such young men for leadership roles in the community at large.
Above all, Benitez emphasized that the exposure and embrace of diversity is carried beyond our four brief years of college.
In our ever-developing and globalized world, the necessity to accept and understand others different from ourselves becomes paramount to leading a productive life. Benitez feels that students need to be exposed to “the other” while they have time to do so in an open environment so they can be better prepared for their entrance into the real world.
Though diversity is a part of everyday life, quite succinctly, Benitez strives to “get to a point when diversity issues aren’t an issue.”
With the return to school after the six-week interim, the Multicultural Affairs department will begin programming to promote th Interfaith Initiative. Additionally, with the upcoming Martin Luther King Day this winter, special presentations and activities will be held in his honor.