Mike Thigpen is the director of the Cultural Resource Center located on the second floor of Decker Hall. Thigpen is also a member of MOSAIC, which is a team of students appointed by the CRC to “build an interculturally responsive campus,” and is the staff adviser to the social club Phi Alpha Kappa.
What did your career look like before you came to AU?
I have been in ministry for over twenty years. Beyond that, I have worked with youth, adults and Christian organizations. Before AU, I worked at a university out of Oklahoma as an adult education recruiter. Most of my life I have been in ministry or working with youth. I loved working with local middle school kids—they are a fun “in between” group. I discovered that I needed to have youth in my life no matter what I did. So, everything that I have done has involved young people or people that are coming into adulthood.
How do you like being the CRC director?
I actually love it because it allows me to engage in culture and learn new things. I learn so much from our international students—just so many things about cultural cues and about things I don’t even realize I do that may be offensive in other places. I pick up so many things from them as well as teaching them things. It’s an exchange. I learn from our multicultural population—students come in from literally all across the country, and there are things that I have not been exposed to just from not living in that city or in that climate.
So, even though it says “director” as the title, I think I learn just as much as every student that comes to campus. We are created to be life-long lovers, and that is what I’m benefiting from. It’s a great opportunity to serve and be an ambassador of culture. It also means I am not just taking it in, but I am also exhaling it into the lives of others.
What started your passion for diversity at AU and other places?
For me, I think diversity has always been a part of my life from growing up in a predominantly African American neighborhood to migrating to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in high school. I didn’t know it then, but everything I had experienced before was preparing me for this. I think it was in high school that I decided to embrace and learn another culture that I had formerly not been exposed to. I learned the food, the music and the social cues of the Jewish culture. I actually worked at a Jewish resort. I learned more about my Christian faith through learning about the Jewish faith. So it was immersion and exposure, but it also gave me the opportunity in high school to be involved in the Hispanic and Asian communities.
I got to kind of gravitate towards these things that were so foreign to me, but that everyday life for these young people that were in New York City, which is kind of a melting pot. I grew up in Brooklyn, and there are so many sections, so many different tribes of people, and the place we merge is on the subway. People wouldn’t go to their neighborhood. Everyone had to take the subway, so you met all your neighbors there. People have to get to work, have to get to school, have to go shopping. That’s what piqued my passion for diversity, because I lived in a diverse place. AU has benefited me in great ways by serving in this position—to continue that initial urging that I had.
What can AU do to promote diversity and inclusion on campus?
I think it comes from practice. It comes from exposure. If we’re going to have true diversity and inclusion on campus, we need to expose ourselves to opportunities that are diverse and that include everyone. One of the biggest pushes that our MOSAIC team has on campus is to create a space where everyone feels that they belong. With that in mind, every person has to take it upon themselves to go to places that are diverse. It isn’t just on campus—it is going to happen in your community and in Indianapolis. Sometimes we have to get off campus and look at other places. We might have to go to the Mexican supermarket. We might need to go to the Korean store. We may need to expose ourselves to people who have different experiences. We need to ask questions.
If we are ever going to be a diverse place, we need to ask questions and feel comfortable asking questions, not from a most elite type of mentality, but from a humble place and trying to intentionally learn about somebody else outside of ourselves. It’s going to take us educating ourselves, and that’s how we will become diverse. We will start having conversations that nobody else is having. We will start saying things that will represent other people because we have gained knowledge.
What are some hobbies you have outside of your job?
I have been trying to figure out, “What are my hobbies?” I do like to roller skate. Currently, I cannot, but I will be roller skating again. I also enjoy playing cards, good food, and spending time with my family. Because I’ve been practicing veganism for over a year now, I have been enjoying Indian dishes. I’ve been going to Indian restaurants in Indianapolis. I ask people for recommendations, people who are Indian, from different regions. I like to laugh.
I like the movies. I’m a movie buff even though I don’t have a lot of time, I try to make time for movies. I like documentaries. I like historical pieces, and I love music. I love all types, all genres, even music that makes me feel uncomfortable as long as they’re talking truth. If the music is speaking truth, I can deal with it. I like poetry. I like karaoke. All of those things would be hobbies of mine. I also enjoy traveling.
If you don’t mind, can you talk about your home life?
I’m married. I’m grateful to be married to my very best friend. No matter what anyone says, my wife really is my best friend. We’ve been through life together we’ve seen so many things together—loss of parents, change of vocation, moving, the birth of our children, kids going off to military, college. We’re still doing it together. Home life is key for us.
Our biggest aim is to be good parents, try to shepherd our kids and pastor our kids, but we try not to be their pastor. We try to be parents, and it’s different. We feel a steak of ownership because of those are our kids. I have four daughters—Brittany, Shekinah, Gianna, Destinee—and I feel really blessed. Everybody says, “Man, you didn’t want a son?” I think the older I get, the wiser I am to realize that God instinctively blessed me with daughters. I think I’m wired for daughters. It seems like in all the communities I’m around, I have a heap load of women around me. I’m blessed to have spiritual sons and sons that come into my life—whether they’re in a mentoring relationship, nephews, uncles, students—who call me “Uncle Mike.” There’s this sense of being created for girls.
My home life is fun, we laugh a lot at home. We’re real silly when it comes down to just enjoying life. We’re very busy. Whether it’s with sports or work or all those things, we keep a very active lifestyle. When we get to sit down together, catch up, eat a meal or go out to dinner, it’s hilarious. We’re all so different in personality. We all have different traits, but we see one another in each other, and we feel really blessed.