A Conversation

4 Hands Together

The world has changed, this much we know, and the magnitude of those changes will be seen throughout every corner of society. For many, at some point there will be a welcome return, if only in part, to the life they’d known. Yet for others, the new normal may be a return to something they may have never known their whole lives, where the acknowledgement of who they are is no longer an inconvenience, but a requisite piece of the wider discourse about issues this country continues to grapple with.

MMA’s Office of Intercultural Engagement (OIE) Associate Director Michael Ortiz is approaching the one year anniversary of his arrival at Taylor's Point. And during what has now become a national crisis within a worldwide pandemic, he finds that what he has been trying to accomplish, and how, has become crucial to the well-being of a cadet population.

He’s been getting plenty of calls lately from cadets who are reaching out to express what many are feeling…anger, frustration, and hopelessness. It’s a situation made more difficult by the separation from campus, from peers and the people they rely on. “There’s so much behind this…so much.” Ortiz remarks. “Because some of these students lack those support networks and resources at home or in their communities, problems which COVID has exacerbated, and they don’t know where to turn, especially at times like these.” 

For Ortiz and his colleagues on campus, working on what is essentially a curriculum within a curriculum, while challenging, has already shown demonstrated progress. From a post-Thanksgiving dinner on worldwide hunger and its impacts, to the SALT (Student Approaches to Learning Together) Program that coaches and mentors first-generation and low-income students, to looking forward to engage those who’ve “been here and done it” with the hope of developing those very personal relationships that are often needed in order to support student success.

MMA’s “Return on Investment” places it within the very top of all colleges. It is a metric that appeals to the widest range of potential applicants, a fact not lost on those from “nontraditional” populations, where the decision to attend the Academy, though daunting, can truly become a transformational experience. Ortiz points out that “At the very least, we are talking about the ability to lift oneself and one’s family out of what is essentially poverty, which in turn can create a positive, multi-generational change.”

But it is not without its challenges. Efforts nationwide to create normalcy around issues of ethnic/socio-economic diversity and inclusion are still very much viewed as an “us vs. them” proposition, that much is obvious. But not unlike the marches and protests now taking place, where a diversity of people have come together like no other time in history, Mike Ortiz has already begun to see it happening on campus, even if in small ways. At a talk last year within the Vision Project which was open to the whole community, when asked afterwards by a cadet whose support comes primarily through his office why there were so many white people in the room, Ortiz counseled, “Because those are the people that are helping fight your fight, and who are trying to be your ally. And while you may not be able to see who’s supporting you or why…believe me… they’re here.”