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This story is part of our news archives, prior to July 2010.

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Exploring the diverse ethnic landscape of the Twin Cities provided Kyera Singleton ’11 (Cherry Hill, New Jersey) with a close look at community building in action. That experience was an important component of Pluralism and Unity, a first-year leadership program that tackles issues of race, identity, and multiculturalism.

The summer before her first year at Macalester, Singleton received information from the Department of Multicultural Life with a list of programs that could help her transition into college life. The Pluralism and Unity Program intrigued her, with its purpose of giving students the time and space to explore their intersecting identities.

Pluralism and Unity offers students an opportunity to grapple with complex personal and social issues such as race, class, and sexual orientation, and form strong relationships within a diverse peer group. The program takes students into different ethnic neighborhoods around the Twin Cities, giving them a chance to examine and interact with a diverse range of people and communities. On the West Side of St. Paul, Singleton and her peers learned much about the Latino community and the local businesses. They also visited Lake Street in Minneapolis, hearing the stories of people who owned their own restaurants, and explored the Hmong International Market in St. Paul’s Frogtown.

Singleton is an American Studies and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies double major, and her experiences in the program have also played a large part in her academic life – particularly when having tough conversations about identity. Her work in Pluralism and Unity has allowed her to integrate abstract theory with the knowledge earned through first-hand experience. “I listened and learned more in those intimate settings about notions of family, culture, nationalism, and political ideologies than in many classrooms,” she says. “P&U allowed me to engage with individuals on a level that did not necessarily need to be supported by theories.”

The lessons learned in P&U extend to work done outside the classroom as well, and Singleton hopes to apply her increased understanding of identity and community building to the Macalester community. “I think that my work here at Macalester has constantly been about giving marginalized communities visibility on campus,” she says. “In P&U we learned about the way communities work together to maintain their identities. I firmly believe in the idea of lifting as you climb, a philosophy that has allowed many ethnic communities in the Twin Cities to both thrive and survive.”