In a moving ceremony, the Illinois State campus community celebrated on October 15 the new Multicultural Center, a recently renovated space dedicated to providing support for students and strengthening the University’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Center Director Dr. Christa Platt, M.S. ’09, Ph.D. ’17, began the event with an acknowledgment of the Indigenous Peoples whose homelands Illinois State now occupies, closed the ceremony with a ribbon cutting, and in between reflected on what the new center means to the campus.
“It’s a special day, and honestly, it’s an emotional day,” Platt said. “It’s a special day for us, the collective, the campus community, not just for me and my colleague Kwame (Patterson), who worked for the last year and a half together to make this venture be what it is, but it’s for the campus community, a moment in history that is special for us.”
About 100 students, faculty, staff, donors, and university and community leaders gathered at the Multicultural Center for the celebration, which was held during Homecoming Week. The event was moved inside due to the weather forecast and was livestreamed on the center’s Facebook page and on a big screen in the Bone Student Center, where about another dozen people watched the hourlong event.
Students Caleb Mangruem and Daisy Rodriguez welcomed attendees with a statement read in English and Spanish: “Welcome to the sacred moment for our community, a moment to reflect, a moment to remember, and a moment to honor,” Mangruem said in part. “Welcome to an opportunity to share in gratitude with our communities who have asked, advocated, protested, demanded, and planned for this center. … We welcome you to honor the mission and the vision to the center that seeks to equip all Illinois State University students to be change agents and enact a culture of anti-racism, equity, and justice.”
After the event, center staff offered attendees tours of the facility, which opened in August in the former Instructional Technology and Development Center at 301 South Main Street. The 16,200-square-foot building underwent a $4.4 million renovation and now includes spaces for events and culturally- and community-based student organizations, conference rooms, a social justice library, a media room, staff offices, a kitchen, all-gender restrooms, and a reflection room.
Illinois State administrators spoke about the crucial role students served in pushing for and developing the concept of the center.
“While we’re excited to complete this construction project and the opening of the center, we’re even more proud of the commitment to the student experience throughout the entire planning process,” said Dr. Levester Johnson, vice president for Student Affairs. “Our students asked for the Multicultural Center, and we listened. We were intentional about listening to their feedback and making decisions that will ultimately make their experience at Illinois State even better.”
Illinois State President Dr. Terri Goss Kinzy called the center’s opening “a momentous occasion.”
“For some, this center is a symbol of our dedication to equity,” Kinzy said. “For some, this center will be a refuge, a place to recharge, to have the energy to continue important work. But for me, the center is a promise to forge ahead for infusing equity into the infrastructure of the University’s practices, policies, and initiatives. It is also a place where we must have constructive dialogue, including on difficult topics and between different views.”
The event also featured an Interfaith Blessing, a thank-you to the alumni who have financially supported the center, a rendition of the song “The Blessing” by the Interdenominational Youth Choir, and readings by the student leaders of the Black Student Union, Asian Pacific American Coalition, Pride, and the Association of Latinx American Students.
“As current student leaders on this campus, we commit to serving our student body by recognizing the humanity of the most marginalized students, we affirm their Blackness; their Asian identity, their Latin histories; and their gender, sexual, and romantic identities,” said Ximena Sanchez-Ramirez, president of the Association of Latinx American Students. “We welcome each intersecting identity of our peers and invite them into the Multicultural Center. We center the experiences of minoritized students. We envision the possibilities for them, and the possibilities of what this space can and will offer students. We envision what the center would have been for a Black man graduate student, like Jelani Day. We will continue to foster community that Jelani would have wanted to belong to.”
Dr. Khalilah Shabazz (assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, equity, and inclusion at IUPUI) has served as a consultant to the Multicultural Center. During her keynote speech, she said cultural centers provide a safe haven for students who often find themselves existing along the margins on college campuses.
“Look at these amazing students. These are your why. These are the faces of our future. These are your why. And for you all students, this is your place, this is your space,” Shabazz said.
Learn more about the Multicultural Center.
Julie Mana-ay Perez contributed to this story.