From the Black Students’ Union to the Muslim Students’ Association, there are a multitude of organizations at UR that allow students to interact with their peers who have similar cultural or religious associations. There is talk, however, of creating a multicultural center at the University which would, in theory, serve primarily as a beneficial middle man among these different groups by promoting the exchange of ideas.
According to Dean of the College Richard Feldman, who is spearheading the initiative, there is currently no definitive plan as to what form this proposed multicultural center would take, as it is only in the preliminary stages at the current time. He explained that it could either be more of an administrative unit which would facilitate communication between different groups or a physical location which could serve many purposes, such as providing a shared meeting space for different organizations.
“There’s a real range of things it might be and a real range of groups that might be affiliated with it,” he explained.
Feldman stressed that one of the biggest questions at the current time is whether it would be more beneficial to find an adequate location now and brainstorm what it could be used for after or to first determine what the center will consist of and then find a space that fits those needs.
“I want to think about what ideally we’d like, but I’d also like to get an idea of what’s realistic,” Feldman said.
The concept of of a multicultural center was first proposed in March 1999 by the Residential College Commission Subcommittee on Diversity. It was proposed in a report which concluded work began in November 1997 looking into “problems the University might be having with ‘diversity,’ particularly in The College and especially as it affects the life of students.”
The document presented fifteen recommendations to the University, including that “serious consideration should be given to the creation of a multicultural center on campus.”
The idea has been brought up periodically since then, but after Feldman called a meeting of faculty members and senior administrators in January to gauge reception of the concept, the idea finally got off the ground. It has also been discussed at the Community Diversity Roundtable (CDR) and at a Students’ Association Senate meeting on Monday, Feb. 6 where Feldman encouraged students to brainstorm what such a center could encompass.
“There’s nothing set in stone with it yet, but it’s starting to creep into the consciousness of a lot of people that there’s a need for a multicultural center — a need for an exchange of ideas that’s only taking place in pockets of our population right now,” SA Vice President, SA representative to CDR and junior Rohini Bhatia said.
She explained that she first envisioned the center to be similar to the Ruth Merrill Center — a shared space that could foster ongoing communication between different groups, but that it could also function as more of a network of groups that could have periodic meetings.
“We need to foster a way in which to make … external communications easy,” she noted.
According to Feldman, some have seen the center as a more academic endeavor — a place in which faculty members and advisers could have a real presence and could accommodate speakers who would address themes such as diversity and inclusion as well as provide meeting spaces for different organizations — and some have viewed it more as the opportunity for a comfortable setting for students to spend time in. Feldman described it as a way to bring social life together with serious academic discussion.
“I think it would just add to the richness of the cultural experience that our students bring to campus,” Director of Minority Student Affairs Norman Burnett said.
The potential of the center for different groups on campus is, it seems, currently unclear.
Co-President of Israel Council and sophomore Aviva Schaffer explained that she believed it could be helpful for working with other student groups, but she doesn’t think it would be able to help clubs with their own internal issues, such as finding new members.
Community Service Chair of Sigma Psi Zeta Sorority and junior Trissha Higa said that she thinks a center would not only benefit her multicultural Asian interest sorority, but all multi-cultural Greek organizations and many other cultural interest groups.
“There is currently no place on campus that I can think of right now that solely is dedicated to or focused on the diversity that is obviously very present here,” she said.
Feldman plans to ask for more student input in various forums and hopes to make progress this semester on a more definite plan.
Goldin is a member of the class of 2013.