Think of a place on your college campus where you can discuss ideologies, identity issues, fear of acceptance and culture; all without being judged or berated. This shelter of sorts can be found in Umoja.
Itself, the word is a Kiswahili for unity, which is what the program strives to upkeep.
The Umoja program started around twelve years ago. Now, it’s available to students all over the United States and can be found at more than forty community colleges, its FC offices are located in room 513.
It’s not easy to keep the program running, and the hard work of the staff has finally paid off as Umoja now has their own office at Fullerton College.
Qualifying for Umoja is easy, students must complete an application form, orientation, develop a student educational plan along with an assessment and see a counselor at least twice a semester.
To Josh Quinonez, Umoja Student Assistant, his goal for Umoja is to allow a space where people of color can talk about bringing institutional change.
Outreach Coordinator Jasmine McLeod explained that Umoja is a good means for keeping African-American students in school. Her goal is for the program is to be a multicultural center of unity and support.
“We want retention and transferring numbers to be going up instead of down,” McLeod said.
Ernest Bridges, the program adviser, recounted that the pilot year of Fullerton College’s Umoja program was 2007 and students got involved in 2008. Since then, it has blossomed into a profound resource for students on campus.
Bridges sees Umoja as a vehicle of inspiration for African-American students. It’s a place where they can not only excel academically but also be prepared to become better citizens and role models for the generations who are to come after them.
Interim Vice President for Student Services Dr. Savannah Jones fought for a year to obtain a bigger space for Umoja, now located in the 500 building.
In order to further their message, Umoja held a kickoff event on September 15, 2016 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
Program Counselor Linda Kelly was a lively voice throughout the event, encouraging students to set up counseling appointments with her and guiding people to the condiments table. Program Manager DeRod Taylor gave each attendee a slip of paper for them to fill out personal goals.
Taylor made it clear that every Umoja members’ experiences serve as an asset to the program. He also added that he’d like every Umoja student to realize their culture has a valuable place in academia and in society.
“Working with Umoja students on a daily basis has really opened my eyes to the full scope of hardships Black students encounter. I feel my role here is to be a resource for students to use so they can confront those issues and work through them,” Taylor said.
Student Assistant Maurice Vines said that Umoja offers him a safe haven where people of any culture can find friendship and encouragement. Any students are welcome to visit and learn more about the program in the process.