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Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement

Meet Rita Ombaka, 2013-14 Multicultural Engagement Intern

July 29, 2013

Rita Ombaka, Student Life Intern, Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement

We caught up with Rita Ombaka (BA International Affairs/Music ‘14) to ask her about her new Student Life Internship with the Office of Inclusion and Multicultural Engagement

Where did you grow up, and how did that experience impact you?

    I grew up on the coast of Kenya in a really small town. In fact, Lewis & Clark is bigger than my hometown. The joy of that was that I was part of a tight-knit community, but we could easily go to the closest city, just a 30-minute drive away. It remember it as a place that we would call very multicultural - there are people of Somali descent, Italian, Kenyan - anything you can imagine - so I grew up in an environment where racial difference was not made obvious to me.

What were your first impressions of Lewis & Clark?

    In all honesty, it freaked me out! I grew up near Mombasa, Kenya, then I finished my last two years of high school in Swaziland through United World College, a community that brings together students from over 200 different nations. Coming here, I realized I’d never been a minority. I didn’t know at all how to react to that. It was a challenge - scary and intriguing - and I had a nagging curiosity about what my next steps in the community would be.

What are your passions?

    One of them is to foster a dynamic understanding of multiculturalism in other people. Sometimes I wish people could see the world through my eyes. I can see so much - my best friends are from Seattle, Spain, and the Netherlands, but I never really recall that until someone brings it to my attention. I just want to highlight the simplicity of life! I’m also a double major in Music, because I’ve never been able to let it go. It’s a similar kind of passion to my interests in multiculturalism, because music is truly an international language.

What do you hope to accomplish as the new OMA intern?

    I love the work that past OMA interns have done. Their work has been from the inside out, from within the office. Now, I want to change this direction. I’m working with people outside of the office, asking them what sorts of events they’d be interested in attending. My friends are from many different departments, and this makes me realize that we need to bridge gaps, branch out, and perform outreach to those we haven’t had contact with before. My plan for Diversity Dialogues, for example, is focused on bringing people together. One area I’d like to explore is identity crises in post-racial America. Identity encompasses so many different aspects of a person’s experience. I also want to talk about appearances and the external perspectives of the American identity, such as it is. I want to ask people about their relationship with Americanness, and how experiences as racial minorities colors this dynamic.

What areas do you hope to explore after graduation?

    My mentors here in the office have made me fall in love with working in Higher Education. I have no idea where… but I really enjoy the conversations I’ve been inspired to have. Talking to people that I wouldn’t have otherwise reached is truly inspiring. In whatever I do, I want to infuse my work with the lessons about engagement and intercultural communication that I’ve learned from my time in the office.