Office of Intercultural Affairs Now the Pensby Center

Posted September 13th, 2012 at 3:38 pm.

Bryn Mawr’s Office of Intercultural Affairs is now officially the Pensby Center.

Why Pensby?

“We’re more committed than ever to providing programs and services that address issues of diversity, power and privilege,” says Vanessa Christman, Pensby director. “But we worried that the office’s old name didn’t reflect the full breadth of what we do in working with students and the Bryn Mawr community.”

Vanessa Christman

Vanessa Christman

Ok. But why Pensby?

“Rather than have a name that’s unwieldy in an attempt to be fully descriptive, we decided to use the original Welsh name of the building,” explains Christman. “We don’t want to be overly prescriptive in talking about what we do or who we are because so much of what happens here is going to be driven by students and the expanding needs of the community.”

Pensby was the first faculty house, and takes its name from the Old Welsh word for “village or settlement by a hill.”  It established the architectural tone for the rest of what is now known as Cambrian Row. Clynnoc, Dolwen, and Aelwyd followed in 1895, 1906, and 1913, respectively.

Renovations in 2001 created communal space for student events, and at that time the building was named the Multicultural Center. It later became home to the Office of Intercultural Affairs.

In its new configuration, the Pensby Center has three branches and directors, and it is at this level that an effort was made to provide clarity through more descriptive titles.

“We’re hoping that having these clearly defined roles for each director will make it easier for students to know exactly who at the Center they need to contact for guidance and support,” says Christman.

Christman is an assistant dean and Director of Leadership and Community Development. Newly hired Stephanie Nixon is the Director of Diversity, Social Justice, and Inclusion, and Dennis McAuliffe was recently named Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

Dennis McAuliffe

Dennis McAuliffe

“I’m excited about the opportunity to work with campus religious groups, religious advisers, student religious coordinators, and others on campus on programs organized by individual faith groups as well as interfaith events,” says McAuliffe. “We have already made considerable progress to outfit the religious life building, Aelwyd, in order to host the many different religious events that are being planned for the new academic year. I welcome suggestions from the College community about ways I can perform my new office in order to enhance our individual and common spiritual journey.”

More about the Office of Religious and Spiritual life can be found online.

Stephanie Nixon

Stephanie Nixon

Director Nixon says, “My role focuses on supporting exploration of diverse identities and backgrounds, engaging issues of power, privilege, and systemic contexts of our experiences, and empowering students to leverage their agency in shaping our campus culture and the world beyond Bryn Mawr. I look forward to exploring these issues with other members of the Bryn Mawr community and to working with our student coordinators and the various programs the Center supports.”

Signature programs supported by the Pensby Center include the Alliance of Multicultural Organizations, the Social Justice Partnership Program, the Tri-College Summer Institute, the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, and the Leadership Empowerment and Advancement Program. A newer initiative, Spectra, focuses on evolving understandings of gender, sexuality, and their intersections with other aspects of identity.

Pensby also provides support for the work of Bryn Mawr’s Community Diversity Assistants and awards the Thomas Prize in Diversity.

In addition to coordinating programs with each other, Christman and her fellow Pensby directors will also build on existing collaborations with the Civic Engagement Office and Residential Life.

“We recognize that issues that are important to the lives of our students often intersect one another. For instance, a student’s civic activities might be church-centered and in support of social justice. What we’ve tried to do with the Pensby Center is to create an administrative structure at the College that reflects that reality and best supports our students,” says Christman.

The expanded role of the Pensby Center should also mean increased collaborations with such campus partners as the Office of International Programs, the Career Development Office, the Alumnae Association, and Admissions.

For example, this fall the Pensby Center is among the groups involved with arrangements to have Deborah Ahenkorah ’10 of Ghana visit campus and meet with students.

“I see the restructuring of our office as an excellent opportunity to enhance community life on this campus–and to respond to the growing global connectedness of that community,” Christman explains.

For more info, visit the Pensby Center website.

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