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Students UNITE for greater ethnic interaction, diversity

A new multicultural group, founded by a group of suitemates who recognized a need for better racial and cultural relations at the University, began its tenure on Grounds last Tuesday. Although the group has officially established itself as a Contracted Independent Organization, it now faces the challenge of making its mark.

M. Rick Turner, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, said he believes UNITE should be at the forefront of many important issues, such as the debate about the future of affirmative action.

"UNITE should be aware of the recent developments of the University's stand on affirmative action," Turner said.

Although UNITE may have to confront several sensitive issues in the upcoming year, members said they are optimistic.

"This is an organization based on fellowship and trust," said Aisha Lloyd, UNITE president and a third-year College student. "We're expecting the majority of UNITE will be students, but we want to encourage professors to join as well."

Ashley Mahood, UNITE vice president and a third-year College student, said there was considerable initial support for the organization.

"The idea and the need for such an organization has always been prevalent at U.Va.," Mahood said. "Aisha Lloyd and I only were the catalysts that implemented this idea."

Mahood said she and Lloyd decided to organize the group last spring.

"UNITE became an official organization only days after Aisha and I sat down at the kitchen table and talked about it," she said. "We both realized that it's going to take a lot more than a piece of paper recognizing we are a CIO to make a difference. It's going to require a lot of involvement from a lot of people."

To drum up this involvement, Lloyd and Mahood said they have a long list of events UNITE is planning to sponsor throughout the year, including "Hands Across U.Va.," Oct. 20, where they hope to gather a large group of students to meet on the Lawn and hold hands as a symbolic gesture.

"We would like 'Hands Across U.Va.' to be representative of a linkage being formed between the community, faculty and student body," Lloyd said.

Also in October, UNITE is planning to hold a reception with the heads of all the other CIOs. William W. Harmon, vice president for student affairs, is the planned speaker.

In November, they are planning an "Ethnic Eatery" that will boast a variety of foods from different cultures. UNITE also expects to sponsor an Outreach Program, whose members would visit local Charlottesville hospitals to visit with patients.

Later on in the spring, UNITE will host a "Cultural Explosion," where University students can dance to a wide range of ethnic and cultural music, including everything from reggae to salsa.

Toward graduation, UNITE hopes to salute the Class of 2000 with an "Ethnic-Alliance Cultural Ball."

The UNITE leaders, however, will not be solely responsible for planning these events. The group includes a number of different committees that will aid the UNITE leaders in organizing these events -- the historic, public relations, newsletter, fundraising and club liaison committees.

With the planning of all these activities, Lloyd and Mahood are beginning to get a feel for UNITE's future.

"Getting recognized as a CIO was the easy part. The real test of our organization lies ahead of us," Mahood said.

Asst. dean of students Michelle Samuels said UNITE has a complicated road ahead.

"I'm challenging everyone here to explore and dismantle what multiculturalism means. This is how all of you will connect as a group, and this won't be an easy process," he said.