Last November, the Is This Why campaign presented five demands to University President Michael Roth, one of which was the “Establishment of a Multicultural Center and a Director of Multicultural Affairs.” The center, according to the Is This Why website, was envisioned as a non-residential space that would facilitate community and support among students who come from historically marginalized backgrounds. According to the website, the space would be used by students interested in social programming, advocacy, education, and community engagement.
The idea of a multicultural center may seem similar to other places at the University, like the University Organizing Center (UOC) or the Center for African American Studies (CAAS), but the UOC is a student run space and CAAS is specific to African American Studies and students from the African diaspora. The multicultural center would be funded by the administration and open for all students from marginalized backgrounds.
A lot has changed since the Is This Why campaign presented its demands on Nov. 18. On Nov. 20, Roth announced a new task force, chaired by Professor of Anthropology Gina Athena Ulysse, Shardonay Pagett ’18, and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Antonio Farias.
“At the end of last semester I indicated we would be creating a task force to explore the establishment of a multicultural resource center as part of our broader effort to improve equity and inclusion on campus,” Roth wrote in an email to all students on Jan. 7.
The structure is now referred to as the Resource Center instead of the Multicultural Center, and may also encompass the roles of a gender resource center and first-generation, low-income student center.
This is actually not the first committee tasked with drafting recommendations for a multicultural center at the University. Back in 1990, a “Multicultural Committee” co-chaired by Khachig Tölölyan, now Director of the College of Letters, and Diem Ha ’93, along with eight other members, was similarly tasked with, according to the minutes of the first meeting, creating recommendations about the establishment of a multicultural center. On May 1, 1991, the committee recommended hiring a multicultural coordinator, but decided against establishing a physical multicultural center.
On Feb. 8, Roth stated that he had yet to form personal opinions about the establishment of a center.
“I’m waiting to hear what a multicultural resource center will do,” he said. “How do we know it’ll be successful? How will it relate to other things we do? So I’m just waiting to hear what students want and what it will do.”
Part of the reason Roth is waiting for final recommendations, he said, is due to problems with student use in previous resource centers.
“We’ve had resource centers in the past and they haven’t been used very much by students after they initially opened, so I want to make sure this is something that will have a meaningful impact,” Roth added.
Lily Kong ’16, one of four students involved in drafting a proposal for the Gender Resource Center, thinks that the administration should play a larger role in maintaining such spaces once they have been established.
“Part of the reason why the administration is concerned is because there was a Women’s Center in the 80s and another in the 2000s,” Kong said. “The administration’s question is why would it be different now? It’s like the same as the multicultural center…. My response to that question is that the reason the center hasn’t worked out in the past is because the administration has not been supportive of the students, not because the students don’t care.”
The Equity Task Force published its interim report online Feb. 14. The report succinctly discusses the history of how Wesleyan has faced the challenge of dealing with issues of inclusion and discrimination.
“Previous committees and task forces show that Wesleyan has made multiple attempts to address issues of difference and racial tensions, but to limited success at best,” the report reads. “The same problems keep recurring.”
The report continues by stating its initial recommendation.
“[This Report recommends the] creation of an integrative educational experience that will continue to reach across all parts of campus life including students, staff, and faculty, through a physical center and institutional initiatives for the indefinite future,” the report reads.
It is important to note that these are not the final recommendations, but only the work that the committee has done so far. The final report will be published on May 1 after the task force finishes the discovery phase and conducts field research on the topic.
Resource Centers in Other Universities
Unlike Wesleyan, other schools in the NESCAC have established physical spaces for historically marginalized students. Bowdoin College has the Student Center for Multicultural Life, the purpose of which is to create a supportive space dedicated to historically underrepresented students.
“[The Student Center for Multicultural Life provides] a home away from home for students from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented at Bowdoin (specifically first generation students, students of racial and ethnic minorities, and low-income students),” the Bowdoin College Center’s website reads.
Bowdoin provides a functioning example of a space that the Is This Why campaign envisioned, and it is not an exception.
Amherst College has the Multicultural Resource Center.
“The Center fosters the development of identity consciousness, allyship, leadership, and social justice within the Amherst community,” the Amherst College Center’s website reads. “As such, it designs programs, facilitates discussions, advises student groups, and provides workshops and trainings.”
Hamilton College has the Days-Massolo Center at Hamilton College.
“The center’s mission is to promote community inclusion, engage in intercultural dialogue, build collaborations, and establish partnerships that help make Hamilton College a welcoming environment for faculty, staff, and students,” the Hamilton College website reads.
The Pugh Center at Colby College, the Davis Center at Williams College, and the Office of Multicultural Education in Bates are also examples of centralized services for historically marginalized groups.
Although Tufts University, Trinity College, and Connecticut College do not have similar services in one physical structure, they offer services for groups like LGBTQ+ students, international students, and women in separate locations.
Prospects for the Future
Some individuals from the Is This Why campaign and the student advisory board have looked to the other groups for essential knowledge about submitting proposals working with administration. One such group is the Gender Resource Center (GRC) team, which is chaired by, Kong, Nina Gurak ’16, Isabel Alter ’17, and Michelle J. Lee ’16, four students who have spent the last two and a half years creating a concrete GRC proposal with the help of students, faculty, and staff.
The team has a similar rationale for demanding a space as the Is This Why campaign.
“Often what we were doing was replicated by groups before us, and how that information is lost because there is no strong mechanism,” Gurak said. “And part of that has to do with having a space. Although a space is not the answer to gender equity, racial justice, or anything like that, it just creates a space where people can go if they have questions. And especially…we were finding feminist activism to be so fragmented that having a space to center that would be really exciting.”
According to Kong, the GRC continues to face recurring problems when making proposals to create a gender resource center.
“There has been a lot of back-and-forth with the administration where they tell us what edits we need to make, us making them, and then giving us even more concerns, or even telling us do the opposite of what they told us to do in the past,” Kong said.
The “back-and-forth” between students and administration, Farias said, is often a critique by students who work with administration.
“If something as complex as a research paper requires many drafts, then something even more complex such as creating a center, something that will last, is far more complex than that,” Farias said. “The back-and-forth is not about dragging feet, but it’s actually about making the suggestion better.”
The current status of the GRC may serve as a forecast for future hurdles that the Equity and Inclusion Task Force, Student Advisory Board, and other groups working on the Resource Center may face.
One suggestion Caroline Liu ’18, a student member of the Equity Task Force, has for the community is to hold the task force accountable and take all feedback under consideration.
Going back to the plans of the current resource center, Hailey Broughton-Jones ’18, a student who contributed in drafting the demands and also a member of the Student Advisory Board, believes that the task force must have a long-term commitment to promoting equity and inclusion.
“We need a structure that is embedded in the institution of the university and will be positioned so that it will continue to represent our presence far past when we graduate,” Broughton-Jones said.
She also suggests that to properly solve problems of equity and inclusion on campus the task force must exist beyond May 1, the expected date for the final report from the Equity and Inclusion Task Force.
“The equity task force was born out of student pressure, and if that pressure is gone the committee will most likely dissolve,” she said. “We need to address boundaries between student, faculty, and staff and also combat the hierarchies between those groups to properly discuss the creation of a Resource Center.”
Farias says such a proposal was discussed in the interim report.
“There was a recommendation that the president consider continuing a task force in some iteration, whether the same members, or a recompilation of members, and then also an eventual standing committee that has to do with diversity and inclusion and equity,” Farias said.