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In her time at the University, Afi Roberson has worked to create new avenues for cultural interaction. When she came to the University 10 years ago, Afi Roberson was an unknown administrative assistant in the African-American Resource Center -- answering phones, working with budgets and performing general secretarial duties. Now, as Roberson prepares to celebrate her 10-year anniversary as an AARC staff member, those who know her say she has moved the center in the right direction and that she has a lot for which be proud. "She has been the backbone all these years," AARC Director Jeanne Arnold said. "She signifies what the AARC is all about.? As she's grown and developed professionally, the AARC has grown and developed." Officially, Roberson is a staff assistant at the center, but unofficially, she is the center's anchor -- going beyond the confines of her job description to develop workshops and programs that benefit members of both the University and West Philadelphia communities. And through her efforts to reach out to students and staff, several students say Roberson has become a mentor. "You can talk to her about anything and feel comfortable around her," said College senior Kianesha Norman, co-chairperson of Alliance and Understanding, a group dedicated to exploring black-Jewish relationships at Penn. "She's at everything possible on campus -- if it has to do with the students, she's there and she's telling you about it." And College senior Miriam Joffe-Block, co-chairperson of Alliance and Understanding and a member of the Progressive Activist Network, said, "I feel completely comfortable asking her for advice and she's a great resource." Some of Roberson's recent efforts include collaborating with Hillel and the Greenfield Intercultural Center to develop Alliance and Understanding, as well as researching, designing and facilitating a 12-step program to teach Penn employees assertiveness skills. A long-time West Philadelphia native, Roberson has also injected her efforts into the community, helping to facilitate neighborhood workshops on basic job skills and single parenting. "I always look for a challenge," Roberson said. "I'm very creative and think that most people have creative juices, but just have to be given the opportunity to expand and grow." Roberson -- who entered a master's program at the University after being hired in 1989 and took classes while working at the AARC -- attended a leadership conference in California three times, returning to Penn with new ideas for programs, including one workshop called "Embracing Diversity" and another titled "Building Collaboration Among Student Groups." And two years ago, Roberson and her collaborators from the GIC and Hillel presented to the conference attendees their model for building black-Jewish relations -- the Alliance and Understanding program. The program itself began with a group of 16 students who sought to raise awareness between the two ethnic groups and create a link between them based on a discussion of their shared histories, Roberson said. "Alliance and Understanding was recently awarded a grant from [University] President [Judith] Rodin's diversity fund, which means the program is up and running and is recognized as a viable program," Roberson said. In addition to creating programs and workshops, Roberson has sat on several boards and committees over her 10 years at the University, including her current membership in University Council's Admissions and Financial Aid Committee. "It's good to make an impact, especially where policy is concerned, and committees allow you the opportunity to have your voice heard," Roberson said. She has also paid particular attention to the issue of recruitment and retention of African-American students and faculty, noting that she has seen "an exodus of African Americans" since she came to the University. "The presence is not here and it sends out a negative message," Roberson said. "You like and appreciate seeing people like yourself around [in upper-level positions].? I'm looking for representatives of my people."

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