The Director of Multicultural and International Student Services (MISS) is a missionary kid from Brazil with a vision of collegiate inclusiveness and an affinity for snowboarding and motorcycles. Susannah Lepley assumed the newly-structured position this year. The job entails overseeing the MISS department, handling the questions of multicultural and international students, and advising several student clubs. Lepley aids the planning of cultural competence training and educational events for campus, such as the upcoming Latino Student Alliance banquet.
Lepley was born to missionary parents in Brazil, and spent time between South America and the U.S. until seventh grade, when her family settled in the States.
“I grew up speaking and relating to people different from myself,” Lepley said. “Knowing how people feel when they come to a strange culture helps me in relating to people from different cultures.” Adjusting to the U.S. educational system was difficult. “I didn’t know what the swear words meant; I didn’t know the seventh grade slang,” Lepley joked. She also had difficulty navigating cliques, as “Brazilians don’t operate that way.” In the Brazilian school, Lepley had social influence as an American with comparative wealth. In America, she was “an absolute noob. . . having no power whatsoever.”
After attending Hesston and Goshen College, Lepley graduated from the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary with a masters in peace studies. Upon moving to Harrisonburg, she became the founding executive director of New Bridges Immigrant Resource Center for nine years. The past four years, Lepley has managed various programs with the Blue Ridge Area Health Education Center, including an interpretation service.
One of New Bridges’ initiatives encouraged underrepresented minority students to enter the health care field so that it better reflected local demographics. Lepley was excited to see some of the youth in that program now attending EMU.
A sign reading, “I am available, come in” hangs from her door, and students often congregate to ask for advice or make connections. The department is made to be as diverse as possible, “so that any person of diversity can come in and find someone they can relate to,” said Lepley. Religious, racial, and experiential variety are valued. Whether one prefers an African American man, a Latino pastor, or a Seventh Day Adventist missionary kid, students have various avenues. “We want this [the MISS offices] to be a safe place that people can come to and feel at home.”
Lepley finds particular fulfillment in assisting energetic students from their first years to graduation, especially first generation college attendees… “College age students are by far the most interesting, in my opinion. . . you’re willing to try new things often.” Lepley noted the inspirational development that occurs during post-secondary schooling. Goosebumps formed on her arms as she described seniors’ transformations into “confident men and women who feel like they can conquer the world!”
-Randi B. Hagi, Co-Editor In Chief
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