New OMD director expands vision of diversity on campus

David Cho steps into new role as director of the OMD

By Carolina Lumetta, News Reporter

09.06.19

This fall, David Cho succeeds Rodney Sisco as director of the Office of Multicultural Development (OMD). Cho holds several advanced degrees, including an M.A. in biblical studies from Wheaton’s graduate school. He most recently worked as a tenured professor of English and as director of the American Ethnic Studies program at Hope College.

The Record sat down with Cho to discuss the OMD, his role as its director and what to expect from the office in the coming year.

How did you get connected with Wheaton?

I’m actually a child of Korean immigrants from Chicago. They immigrated in ‘72, and my parents, unlike most Korean immigrants in that generation who moved north by Glenview and Skokie, moved to the western suburbs. My parents had a store in Elgin and later in Glen Ellyn on Roosevelt Road. My dad [passed away two years ago] and is also buried along Roosevelt Road. So, when I interviewed and was given the offer, I felt this sense of coming home.

What is your vision for this office?

My vision is to [stay] in line with what Rodney set up. This is the Office of Multicultural Development, and it’s a place where students can thrive.

On paper, the OMD is for any student here at Wheaton College. But also on paper, when they say multicultural, I think they are talking about race and ethnicity, which would mean largely minority and racialized minority students. By “racialized minority,” I mean those groups historically that have been systematically and institutionally marginalized.

I use the terms “minority” and “majority” to differentiate from those in power historically and those who haven’t been. I know people have umbrage with that, but for me, this clarifies between institutional powers, and I don’t like to confuse the lines there.

How does Wheaton’s office compare to other schools?

At many schools, places like the OMD are for all sorts of cultural-isms, but here it seems pretty clear it’s race and ethnicity.

I use the terms “minority” and “majority” to differentiate from those in power historically and those who haven’t been. I know people have umbrage with that, but for me, this clarifies between institutional powers, and I don’t like to confuse the lines there.

I’d like to [start] a Native American group here so that more Indigenous students can come and see that they can thrive at Wheaton. That’s part of the work of racial reconciliation; first and foremost, we should be thinking about Native groups when we talk about racial reconciliation, but I don’t hear that in the vocabulary of people around here. That really grieves my heart. I’d also like to install a body of students who can investigate their white racial identity because I don’t think that’s been talked about very much at Wheaton.

What projects are you currently working on or pursuing?

One of my goals is to have the office renovated and get a sense of our next chapter, because it’s still very painful for students to come by after the death of a man who was a mentor, a legend and a father figure. I’m not trying to radically reconstruct the OMD, but we’re going to amplify [what was already happening before]. Anyone that comes by will feel at home, that it’s a refuge.

How do you see the OMD as being a home to Wheaton students?

A lot of racialized minority students often say wherever they go that they don’t feel like they have a home. It might be hard to hear, but that’s a common mantra on any campus. It’s not a criticism, per se, it’s just the way it’s been. Historically, many schools aren’t built with minorities in mind. I think that’s what students are picking up on in the chaplain’s office, in academics, in residence life or almost anything you name — even athletics, for that matter. So [the OMD] becomes a home for them.

The misnomer, though, is that the OMD is only for the racialized minority students. But, it’s also an invitation for white students, if they want to come by. It should be a place for all students to talk about racial identity. This should be the one place that is institutionally created to signal to them “this is your home.”

The class of 2023 is Wheaton’s most diverse freshman class ever. What are your thoughts on that?

Well, numbers don’t lie, and I think it’s a great achievement. When we celebrate it, I always have a tinge of sadness though, because that’s how it should have been this whole time.

From my experience at other schools, people confuse demographic diversity with cultural diversity. You could have demographic diversity in terms of people being from all over the world. But then culturally, if everyone thinks the same, acts the same and dresses the same, I don’t think that’s diversity. That’s hopefully a question we can keep in mind — how do we celebrate and equip that cultural diversity in everything we do across campus?

What do you want new students to know about the OMD and diversity on campus?

This office is available for everybody, so come on by! There are a lot of phenomenal students and staff here. Make a home for yourself.

I’d like to let everybody know that these notions of justice, racial diversity and our embracing of it are all rooted in Scripture. It’s not a liberal thing or a programmatic thing to do. We often get into these [conversations] which are polarized between “liberal” or “conservative” people. It’s an integral part of our faith. [The idea of ] ethnicity has been interwoven into our Bible from Genesis to Revelation, from the Israelites in Egypt to Daniel in Babylon. When God speaks to Abraham, [he says] “the nations will come from you.” In one version, the word that’s used there in Greek is called “ethnos.” In Revelation, when God is there and it says “all the nations are worshiping,” the Greek word again is “ethnos.” Jesus died as a wrongfully incarcerated criminal on the cross, so that should speak a lot to us. He died in our place, so that we would be blameless before the Lord.

I actually think it’s part of our daily sanctification to get this right. That’s what I would challenge people to think about, and the OMD is charged, in part, with that reminder. [This means the OMD] will be a resource for various agencies on campus, whether relationally or informationally.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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