Wes Heath: I am...Culturally Adept
Wes Heath, Assistant Director for Cross-Cultural Affairs, has been with the Office of Multicultural Affairs since November 2016. Heath is an Indiana native and received a dual-bachelor's degree in Sociology and Psychology from Manchester University. Heath also earned his Master's degree in Sociology from Ball State University.
What is your definition of culturally adept?
Being culturally adept means caring personally about societal issues that may not directly affect me, working diligently to toward equity and inclusion, and consistently learning about other cultures and identities. I must take responsibility for ending systems of oppression even if I did not create those systems, and I understand that choosing not to be involved in social change would be taking advantage of my privilege. It takes dedication, time, and continual learning to be culturally adept, but the work is extremely rewarding.
How do you believe you advance the value of culturally adept in your every day work?
I believe that everything we do in the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Office of Diversity exists to advance the value of culturally adept.
These actions can take on many names such as social justice, advocacy, programming, and mentoring. In my role, I advocate for and advise Native, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latinx, and LGBTQ+ student groups. I implement programs and events that explore cultural competency and awareness such as Heritage Month celebrations, the Multicultural Student Leadership Conference, and MLK Commemorative Celebration Week. Our office regularly hosts trainings about culture and identity with Safe Space trainings being the most popular. And finally, I also oversee our Genesis Mentoring and Tutoring programs that help students grow academically, adjust to life at LSU, and celebrate holistic student wellness. It is important to note that none of this would be feasible without a team of dedicated people who support this work.
Why is being culturally adept important to you?
As an openly gay person, I experienced adversity, hatred, and discrimination as I went through high school and college. I can easily recall the feelings of isolation and self-doubt that plague so many underrepresented students. It is important to me to be culturally adept for two reasons. First, I want to always affirm and support students in all of their identities. Second, I never want to be the person who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, harms students through my words or actions. Being culturally adept also means having an understanding of my own privileges. As a white, cisgender man, I have to know how my presence, words, and actions affect students. Being cognizant of the diverse world helps me serve students with ability and conviction.
How has working with students provided insight of other cultures around you?
I learn something new every single time I interact with students. I am continuously learning about new cultural traditions, languages, social mores, and celebrations. Students are amazingly perceptive, and they can sense when faculty and staff truly care about their heritage and background. When students feel excited about their identities, they are eager to share that with others. I am honored to work in a role that allows me to connect with and learn from students
How can LSU become a more culturally adept university?
By putting students first, learning from them, and celebrating their differences, LSU will continuously become more culturally adept. With students as the foundation, and resources as the infrastructure, we become a much stronger institution.