Student Voice

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May 27, 2024

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Multicultural center symbolizes diversity on campus

October 5, 2006

Located in room 104B of the Davee Library, the Multicultural Student Programming Center is the first of its kind at UW-River Falls.

Outfitted with a computer, couches and various multicultural-themed media resources, the center currently serves as a meeting spot and refuge of sorts for UW-RF students of color.

“It’s a safe place for our multicultural students to relax from the daily stressors of being a student of color on a predominantly white campus,” said Multicultural Student Advisor Tyra Nelson.

Linda Alvarez, who is also a multicultural student advisor, said the center’s presence benefits all students by giving them the chance to interact with people from diverse backgrounds.

“It offers the opportunity of connecting with people different than themselves [and] being exposed to other perspectives,” Alvarez said. “Students that work in diverse groups are more prepared for the pluralistic workplaces they’ll be entering after graduation.”

Both Nelson and Alvarez are responsible for managing the center.

The selection of books, movies and magazines found within its walls are items the two have perused and found to be helpful resources, Nelson said.

Since it is the first full semester of operation, it is still a “work in progress,” Alvarez said.

“We will get a more formal process,” Nelson said.

Nelson and Alvarez hope to staff the center with student employees in the near future. Workers will be responsible for assisting with duties and leading prospective multicultural students on campus tours, Alvarez said.

Future plans include the eventual evolvement into a “literal programming center,” where students will access various multicultural resources for class projects, Nelson said.

The two advisors played an instrumental role in assisting students to make the center a reality on the UW-RF campus.

According to Nelson, the idea for a multicultural student center came into existence in October 2004, when a group of students attended the Annual Multicultural Student Leadership Conference (AMSLC) held at UW-Madison.

Attended by representatives from all the four-year UW campuses, AMSLC gives multicultural students the opportunity to assemble and network. A different UW campus hosts the event every year.

In speaking with students from other UW schools, the UW-RF assembly was surprised to find out that the campus was the only four-year school in the system without a multicultural student center, Nelson said.

The group was spurred into action upon return to UW-RF.

“Students became very inspired to initiate space on this campus after AMSLC,” Alvarez said.

A petition stating the need for a multicultural student center on campus was drafted, and hundreds of signatures were gathered, Alvarez said.

Hoping to secure a spot in the new Student Center, copies of the petition were given to then Interim Chancellor Virgil Nylander and Dean of Student Development and Campus Diversity Roger Ballou for consideration, Nelson said.

Their plans were temporarily thwarted when they were informed space had already been allocated to other programs and organizations in the new Student Center, she said.

Former Dean Ballou also felt the inclusion of a multicultural student center in the planned Student Center would separate students and promote segregation.

“You get into this situation where all the different ways that people differ end up being their own little individual entities,” Ballou said in the April 29, 2005 issue of the Student Voice.

“There was discussion back when it [the new Student Center] was being planned about a multicultural center in there, but the committee decided not to sort of have an area that segregates students, which is how it becomes,” he said. “You get this kind of center within a center.”

The group was “shocked” by Ballou’s opinion, but did not allow it to detract them from their goal, Alvarez said.

With the knowledge in mind that the University would be receiving both a new chancellor and dean of student development and campus diversity the following school year, they continued “trying to document what they needed” in order to bring a center to campus, Alvarez said.

The arrival of Chancellor Don Betz and Dean Blake Fry last fall gave students of color some much needed allies in the fight for a new multicultural student center.

Fry, fresh from his stint as director of campus life at the University of Central Oklahoma, said he believed the campus in particular needed a special space for students of color.

“The transition to college is hard enough without walking around campus and seeing nobody that shares your interests or background,” Fry said. “That is a realistic day in the life of a student of color on [this] campus.”

Fry authorized the usage of Plan 2008: Design through Diversity funds for the decoration of the new center, which by then had found a home in 104B of the library.

Plan 2008: Design Through Diversity is a “comprehensive” strategy that hopes to increase diversity on all of the UW campuses, Fry said.

A student committee, advised by Nelson, was formed last fall to decide on the motif of the new center. The results of the committee’s hard work are now on display for everybody on campus to see.

“[The center] is a physical representation of this campus’ commitment to diversity amongst its students,” said Academic Success Center Director Phil George.

Student visitors to the center agree it is a valuable area for the University to have.

“It’s a nice place to come and study,” said junior Ainsley Hargest, who said she doesn’t get “easily distracted” there. “[The center] brings different minorities where they can just talk and not worry about whoever else is around.”

Junior Anthony Anderson, who was a part of the decoration committee last fall, said the center is a “place where you can relax and meet people like you.”

“It’s bringing more students of color together; it’s an extra resource we can take advantage of,” Anderson said.

Sophomore Liali Vang said having the center on campus is a good thing.

“It’s nice that we do have one,” Vang said.

Fry said he believes that instead of isolating multicultural students, the new center will empower them to become more active members of the UW-RF community.

“It creates a place where students of color can feel welcome,” Fry said. “Once they feel welcome in one particular place on campus, then they can start to mobilize their efforts to the point where they start to feel comfortable on all parts of the campus.”

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