Changing stories one mentor at a time

Freshman move in day is, for many, what starts an 18-year-old’s time as an adult. Mom and Dad are there to help unpack the boxes, and then you’re on your own.

Brie Shines remembers this feeling all too well. By the end of the day, she was scared instead of excited. With an overwhelming feeling of being on her own with too much responsibility, she was happy to see a mentor step in.

The Center for Multicultural Initiatives has been giving its scholar students these mentors since it started 25 years ago. The center gives under-represented populations the mentors to help them stay on track and for the simple purpose of having at least one friend. During freshman year, the new students can plan on seeing their mentor at least once a week.

“I actually didn’t even want to meet with my mentor, but we had to so I did,” Shines said. “But my mentor was so encouraging. I grew so much as a person throughout freshman year.”

These mentors are always students. Omar Brown-El, the director of the CMI, said it is important for “students to hear from other students.” He said because of the closeness in age, the peer-mentor system provides a more effective outcome. Much like Shines, many students see their mentor as a friend.

Shines, now a senior, actually followed in the footsteps of her mentor and has become one herself. Through her leadership in CMI and an outfit on campus called Young Life, she now gets to do for others what her mentor did for her.

“As someone who can relate to those under-represented students, it’s inspiring and encouraging,” she said. “I love its mission for diversity, because it’s so much more than just race. I think it’s very important, I love to be a part of it.”

Obadah Asbahi, one of the CMI’s peer mentors, also said that the opportunity to be there for students is what makes his job so enjoyable.

“It’s about being that guy the freshman can come to for support,” he said. “The CMI has always been like one big family, and the mentorship is just an extension of that.”

Brown-El said the community of diversity is what fuels the office. Located in North Foundation Hall, it is meant to be somewhere everyone can go. Though the focus is to support and increase the graduation rate of under-represented students, Brown-El said they by no means isolate themselves.

One of the ways the center branches out is through its events. Asbahi said the events have always been his favorite part of the office. He remembers last year’s “Taste of Africa” event as something he enjoyed and benefitted from.

Aside from learning about Africa, he was excited to see a “mixed bag” of people show up. The office that pushes for diversity is always happy to see different faces voluntarily help them achieve that goal. In its 25th year, the folks over at the CMI are ready to continue the work that has carved the paths of many Oakland University alums.

“I couldn’t imagine campus without the CMI,” Asbahi said.