My son is a senior in high school this year. Visiting other university campuses over the past several months has given me a new view of universities --- a view from "the parent side." Those of us in higher education work every day from the inside to make the experiences of our students as fulfilling as possible. However, we can all benefit from an outside view to bring things into focus.
What did my family take away from these visits to other college campuses? While the campuses all had different things to offer, and did their best to showcase strengths, what stood out to my 17-year old, and therefore to his father and I, is that he wants to find a place where he is appreciated, a “niche” where he fits.
How do we make our students feel like they’re appreciated, that they’re valued, that they belong here WITH US?
Every young person is looking for that “niche” in the world where he fits in, where she feels comfortable, where she can be herself and be supported.
I think we can all agree that we’re in a time of recovery and rebuilding in Macomb and at WIU. As we work to rebuild and reshape the future of our community, let’s be intentional in our values. EVERY student who visits here should be made to feel that he is welcome on this campus and in this community. All students should see “niches” in which they fit at WIU, and in Macomb, places where they can plant their roots and grow.
It’s VERY important for us to realize that this kind of welcoming environment doesn’t occur naturally. The world around us is stratified into hierarchies that advantage some students over others. We have to be INTENTIONAL in our efforts to welcome all students to our wonderful campus and community.
Another “take-away” from my family’s summer college visits was the realization that at WIU we HAVE the infrastructure to welcome a diversity of students. We have a uniquely-wonderful tool in our Multicultural Center, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Back in 2009, this fabulous space was added to our campus.
But the addition of the Multicultural Center didn’t “just happen.” It took intentional action and a lot of hard work to get it planned, started, and completed. Many students, faculty, and staff now graduated or retired from WIU invested in building something for the generations of students who would follow them. Now, it’s up to us to continue this tradition of INTENTIONAL work to make our campus welcoming – and this is something we all need to support.
Our Multicultural Center is unique because there are four distinct identities maintained within the four centers in the building, each enjoying its own space and staff. These are: The Women’s Center, the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Casa Latina, and the LGBT*QA Resource Center.
By placing these distinct centers in one centrally located building on campus, the designers of the Multicultural Center (such as Earl Bracey, Belinda Carr and Alda Godines), foresaw that the Centers would, “become more visible and accessible,” serving to “strengthen the University’s recruitment and retention efforts, especially of underrepresented groups. . ..”
A document shared with me by Janine Cavicchia, WIU’s long-time Women’s Center Director, entitled “A Sense of Place,” notes that, “Cultural centers provide experiences that operate like a magnet to attract people within and outside of the University community.”
Begun in 1969 as a cultural center for African American students, “the Black Cultural Center” was dedicated in honor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet Laureate of Illinois Gwendolyn Brooks in 1970, in recognition of her support for the establishment of the center.
In 1972, Professor Salazar, of WIU’s Foreign Languages department, began using his home as a meeting place for Latinx students. By 1973, this had evolved into WIU’s “Casa Latina,” a cultural center for our Latinx students.
The WIU Women’s Center was established in 1986 as an extension of the Western Organization for Women, and has been “a resource for individuals and groups of women and men on campus and in the community ever since.”
The Multicultural Center’s newest resident, the LGBT*QA Resource Center, was established in 2011. The Center’s website states that the Center, “offers a welcoming and inclusive environment for people of all sexualities and gender identities/expressions and supports the holistic development of students.”
There are WIU Foundation accounts for each of these four centers– The Women’s Center, the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Casa Latina, and the LGBT*QA Resource Center.*
Please consider making a contribution in honor of the 10-year anniversary of our Multicultural Center building, to the Gwendolyn Brooks memorial park fund, or to any of the Centers at the MCC.
The overall goal of the Multicultural Center is to be "inclusively inviting and intentionally recognizing." But the students and staff working in the MCC cannot do it alone.
Please, let’s be intentional in our values. Let’s put resources and support behind the values in which we believe. This is vitally important in this time of transition and in the context of racial and other tensions in our campus and community.
NOW MORE THAN EVER -- Make your voice heard in our community, contribute financially to the entities in need of support as you are able. And, if you’re a community member, make contact with our wonderful WIU students. Please believe me - they need you as much as you need them.
* For more information on the centers housed in the WIU Multicultural Center, see their websites:
The Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center: http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/gwendolyn_brooks_cultural_center/
The LGBT*QA Resource Center: http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/lgbtqa/
Women’s Center: http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/womens_center/index.php
The Multicultural Center Site: http://www.wiu.edu/student_services/mcc/
Lora Ebert Wallace is a Professor of Sociology at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.
Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.