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Commentary: Belonging, leadership, celebration, and advocacy

Katy Valentin
courtesy photo
Katy Valentin

Students arrive on colleges campuses every day seeking a place where they belong. This could be a number of places, but for many students coming to Western Illinois University the cultural/identity-based centers within the Multicultural Center can provide a home away from home where they find that community and a strong support system that helps them make it through these next four years of college. 

Within the MCC we have four of cultural/identity-based centers, which include the Casa Latina Cultural Center, Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, LGBT*QA Resource Center and the Women's Center. Each of these can provide a unique home or space that students can go to make friends, join student organizations, and participate in programs and events. 

Since starting my role as the director of the MCC at WIU in March, I've had the opportunity to experience what these communities really mean to the students that are here at the Multicultural Center day in and day out. I decided to make it a goal as the Director to ensure that we are not only providing spaces for these students to develop a community amongst each other, but also spaces where they can network and mingle with faculty and staff here at the University and with community members. 

The MCC isn't just a home away from home for students. It can be a Center within the community that people can come to learn and to share with one another and to truly celebrate diversity and create a welcoming environment here on campus and in the city of Macomb. I am from a small town myself and even though it’s a similar size as Macomb, it's a whole different experience being in this small community versus that small community. 

One of the things that drove me to stay here at Western was the fact that you have places like the MCC where you can interact with people of various identities, and see them highlighted and celebrated. That's something that is very much needed, especially in small towns and on college campuses which have not always been a welcoming space for these historically marginalized groups. 

The MCC operates as a whole; however, each of these four centers maintain their uniqueness and purpose, while thriving together. Over the past several months, we've developed long term pillars that encompass the mission and goals of the Centers and how we plan to move forward as a whole. 

Now, the first one is Belonging, and this goes with the previous point about the MCC being a home away from home for students. They're able to come here and feel like they have a place where they belong here at Western and that's something that every college student needs because we know that it's not just about the academics. It's not just about coming in and taking classes and graduating, students need to feel like they have a community on campus to truly be successful. 

Leadership is another pillar. At the MCC, there are many opportunities for students to be leaders and they can be involved through things like our student organizations where we enhance multicultural awareness across campus and provide educational opportunities. We really want to make a place where students have a voice that can be heard, and that this can be the threshold for that. 

The next one is Celebration. We celebrate the rich diversity of our students and the legacy of our predecessors. Yes, we celebrate the different identity months, but we also want to make sure we're celebrating these groups and diversity on campus all the time. It's not just specific times of the year -- they should always be celebrated. There should be a space for them to come and embrace themselves and share that with others. 

And last but definitely not least, is Advocacy. We strive to advocate for the concerns of students with marginalized identities so that we are making sure their voices are being heard. This happens in a variety of ways; it might be with events or programs, but a lot of times it's these students being leaders within their groups, and they're advocating for what they need and what they deserve here on campus, which is something that we should hope all students do. 

Moving forward, we hope that the MCC continues to be a place where students come and feel welcome. We also want to continue providing resources that enhance the community's understanding and appreciation of all identities. We want to make sure that the Centers are also complementing what the University's mission is in terms of empowering students, faculty and staff to lead dynamic and diverse communities. 

We hope that more people on campus and in the community are able to come to events and see what our students are doing. We have created a public Google calendar that people can subscribe to so that they can see what's happening at the MCC. 

We always do an Open House at the beginning of the semester, but we want it to be a continuous mindset throughout the semester where people can come learn more about the resources at the MCC and ways to get involved with the Centers. I'm very excited to be a part of the MCC team and see what we can accomplish moving forward. 

Katy Valentin is Director of the Multicultural Center 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.