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ISU's Multicultural Center Aims To Create More Inclusive, Diverse Environment for Students

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The Multicultural Center Staff
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The Multicultural Center staff handed out Antiracism, Identity and Belonging T-shirts during the 2021 New Student Induction Ceremony. Antiracism, Identity and Belonging are the Multicultural Center's pillars. From left, graduate assistant Nishly Lopez, graduate assistant Cecelia Lewis, graduate assistant Juanita Carrillo, associate director for operations Kwame Patterson and assistant director for leadership and community development Aramis Martinez.

Illinois State University's new Multicultural Center opened this month. ISU says it's part of its commitment to creating equitable and inclusive opportunities for students.

The Multicultural Center replaces a former spot in the Bone Student Center that many saw as small and unfitting for their student organization meetings. Now, the Black Student Union, the Association of Latin American Students, PRIDE and Asian Pacific American Coalition can meet in their own designated spaces at the center.

Associate Director for Operations Kwame Patterson says staff understood the importance of honoring the voices of students who long advocated for the center. From the paint on the walls to the planning of events for each student organization, the staff is partnering with students.

The goal is to equip students to value intersecting identities and commit to enacting a culture of anti-racism, equity and justice. To do that, Patterson says the center needs the support from ISU faculty who influence the lives of students each day.

“For faculty and staff, we just ask that you bring a student who needs to be in community with people and who needs resources from the Multicultural Center. We’re just excited about this opportunity we have especially coming off 2020 being a rough year with a health pandemic and a racial pandemic.”

To ensure that everyone’s voice is heard, Patterson says we must de-center ourselves so that others can have space to share their experiences. He encourages individuals of all backgrounds to visit the center and find a home-away-from-home in an environment that is devoted to anti-racism, identity and belonging.

Ximena Sanchez Ramirez is president of Association of Latin American Students, or ALAS. She says before the multicultural center existed, she and other executive board members were forced to rent out a space for their executive board meetings with their organizations’ funds.

Now, ALAS can utilize that money to expand programming. It's also getting direct support from Multicultural Center staff.

“Now we have a space to call our own. Regardless of your race, regardless of your gender, regardless of your religion, you’re always welcome into this space, and you can feel it. As soon as you step in, the people at the front desk are just so welcoming. It welcomes more minorities to ISU because now they know that there is a space for them.”

To students like Sanchez Ramirez, the creation of the Multicultural Center is a step in the right direction. Sanchez Ramirez says she hopes ISU will not stop here and provide more scholarships to support minority students.

“To have more minorities, you’ve got to have that help there because it’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s great that you [ISU] want to have them all here. But what are you going to actually do to support them, make sure they’re welcome here at this school?’”

Doris Houston is assistant to ISU's president for diversity and inclusion. She's spent the last two years working with administrators and student leaders of #AntiBlackISU, a group of Black students and allies committed to abolishing what they see as anti-Black practices at ISU.

Her focus has been to address students’ concerns and need for safe spaces to belong, inclusive curricula, and diversity within the student body and faculty. Houston says equity, inclusion and diversity are aspirational goals for ISU, and she’s proud of the efforts that many ISU community members have made to live up to those standards.

However, she says ISU is not yet there.

“Illinois State University is a reflection of our larger society. We have some people who are strong advocates. We have others who are not open to having the kind of change that’s needed to embrace equity, diversity and inclusion.”

In addition to bringing students to the center and promoting its activities, Houston encourages the ISU community to take chances to speak with students that have different backgrounds than their own — because this is the only way to break down barriers.

“Developing relationships with each other and having opportunities to have sincere dialogue and develop friendships … that’s really the way that we can embrace equity and inclusion and have a better campus and a better society."

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