Cortney Johnson is the Senior Coordinator of Multicultural and Diversity Programs at UAB. She works hand in hand with students to actively work towards a more diverse and safe campus for students of all backgrounds.
What is your position at UAB? What groups are you in charge of?
I am the Senior Coordinator of Multicultural and Diversity Programs in the office of Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs. I advise Free Food For Thought, our Interfaith Dialogue Series and Global Citizenship 101. These three programs are all education/dialogue based programs, meaning I work with students to write curriculum about a specific topic to then help their peers understand that topic and share their opinions with one another about what they have just learned. For example, last year Free Food For Thought did a series on ‘The American Dream: Fact or Fiction?’ where student facilitators helped their peers understand the realities of upward mobility, discuss the myth of meritocracy and let students share their perspectives on the issue and create dialogue around that topic. Interfaith does something similar focusing on issues of faith, and Global Citizenship discusses both international and local issues, but the audience is high school students. These three groups usually draw a very small crowd, maybe 40 students maximum attend each session.
Along with these groups, I also help to advise a board of students called The Social Justice Advocacy Council. This council has two parts, one is a programming board, they put on large scale social and educational events. The other part is our affiliate board, this board helps to advise identity and cultural based registered student organizations and offer funds for programs they are planning and implementing on campus.
How would you describe the Social Justice Advocacy Council?
The council is made up of a ten students, four of them work on the affiliate board and the rest make up the programming board. Each year, the programming board will plan and implement six large scale programs. These programs aim to create broad awareness of a specific identity or current event—these programs also provide exposure for our office, hopefully letting students know that we are focused on social justice issues and that our office can be used as a conduit to build community with one another. One of our newer events is called ‘International Women’s Day.’ This daylong event hosts local, women-owned businesses in the Hill Student Center to sell their wares to students, staff, and faculty. We had a ‘This is what a Feminist Looks Like’ photo booth and gave out International Women’s Day t-shirts. This event was fun, inviting, and also had a strong message promoting the importance of women owned businesses in our community and the importance of feminism in our society at large.
The affiliate board is meant to resource cultural and identity based organization at UAB. Student organizations can apply to become an affiliate, attend the affiliate board meetings throughout the year and they will receive funding for the programs that they are hosting on campus. The affiliate board is helpful for two reasons, it gives student organization funding to do the programming they want to do, and it also brings our cultural and identity based orgs together once a month to connect with each other and discuss all of the programming that is happening on campus. These meetings promote collaboration and collective support amongst these organizations. The affiliate board also helps our office fill in any content we are missing. Our small office could not presume to put forward all the programs that students want to see or be a part of, so we look to students who are already doing great work on campus and give them resources to keep going.
What plans are in place for the 2016-2017 year at UAB?
Our office has quite a few programs planned for this upcoming academic year. In the fall our office will be hosting our annual Multicultural Mixer, ‘Coming Out’ on the Green, Reel Justice Film Series, International Welcome Party, Umoja Black Student Welcome, Free Food For Thought Series on Poverty in Birmingham, our Interfaith Sustained Dialogue, and SafeZone 101 trainings. No lack of programs and the lineup looks very similar in the spring.
How can community members get involved?
A handful of our programs are open to the public. I would advise joining our Facebook page to follow what our office is up to. We have also partnered with community organizations in the past and we are always looking for opportunities to connect with the community. Last semester Free Food For Thought hosted a panel with community members from the Magic City Agricultural Project, Dynamite Hill-Smithfield Community Land Trust, and REV Birmingham to talk about gentrification vs. revitalization.
Why are these programs particularly important in Birmingham?
Most of the programming we do is targeted specifically at UAB students. Bringing the social and educational programs to promote self-awareness and community building that we do for UAB students may help them see how they are members of the Birmingham community. UAB is a very insular place, many of our students do not feel like they are members of the Birmingham community, just the UAB community. Granted, it is important for students to feel a part of the UAB community, but feeling connected and taking responsibility for the wellbeing of Birmingham can have a positive effect here.