Fatima Rodriguez Johnson makes college a home for all

Fatima Rodriguez Johnson, the coordinator of multicultural programs, brings to Geneseo an understanding of and passion for the multiculturalism that has permeated her life.

Rodriguez Johnson grew up in the Fruit Belt neighborhood of Buffalo, a highly concentrated black community. According to Rodriguez Johnson, local families took charge of raising all the children who grew up there. "The community itself really looked out for children and tried to instill values in us as we were out and about," she said.

As a teenager, Rodriguez Johnson and her family moved to Kensington, a more diverse neighborhood. She enrolled at Nazareth College in Pittsford, but later transferred to SUNY Fredonia. While Rodriguez Johnson was a student there in 1994, a cross was burned on campus. Since the college lacked an office of multicultural programs or affirmative action officer, student groups found themselves "thrust into activism mode." This work, combined with Rodriguez Johnson's studies in social justice, race relations, sexual orientation, class and related topics led to her interest in multicultural affairs.

Rodriguez Johnson earned a master's degree in higher education and took a job at the National Conference for Equality and Justice. While she enjoyed working in human relations at the regional and national level, she yearned to be involved with her first love – higher education. In 2006, she began serving in her current position at Geneseo.

According to Rodriguez Johnson, the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services "really supports the college's core value of diversity." The office's primary responsibility is to "grant [African, Latino, Asian and Native American] students access to resources for their own social and cultural experiences." For example, ALANA students may seek a house of worship, cultural organization or food that is not readily available in Geneseo.

The office also facilitates programming, workshops and educational opportunities for the campus community at large. Rodriguez Johnson views the office as a place to filter people's questions and enhance the campus' understanding of diversity. She added that it takes the combination of good programming and efforts from admissions, faculty and students to move the campus toward its goals.

This June, Rodriguez Johnson will say goodbye to the group of students that matriculated as freshmen when she was just starting here. "In some sense I've learned more from [students] than they've learned from me," she said. She hopes students will leave Geneseo with a strong foundation in multiculturalism and that they will be mindful of the difficult and complex issues within as they enter new professions, communities and families.

On March 3, the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services along with the Office of the Provost, the Africana/Black Studies program and the Xerox Center for Multicultural Teacher Education will host Ysaye Barnwell '67 '68 for a Community Sing, a Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration event. Rodriguez Johnson's office is also organizing the hip-hop symposium and the MOSAIC Cultural Awareness series – the calendar of events for the latter is available at union.geneseo.edu.