Gives students a multicultural space

Colin Bowden, Staff Writer

A new multicultural center could provide a space for all of us Madison College is home to many things. We were first as a two-year college to bring stem cell study to the classroom. We are one of the few to have an electron microscopy program. We offer all sorts of clubs and organizations from the Anime Club to the Volunteer Center. Compared to UW-Madison, we are far more diverse. We have many more non-traditional students, many more students with families, many more students who’ve experienced adversity, deep and longstanding adversity and more cultural diversity.

As of last year, internal statistics from Madison College’s Institutional Research and Effectiveness department show that 20 percent of the college’s student body are people of color, far ahead of UW-Madison’s 14 percent, as revealed by the UW-Madison registrar’s most recent numbers. Our college has much to celebrate, of that there is no doubt.

We do so much good here and are ahead of the curve, except on the issues of cultural competency and inclusion. There is an organization, United Common Ground, for putting on thoughtful events as much as possible. There are several advocacy groups for various communities on campus such as the African Student Association and Orgullo Latino. We have some structures in place already to try to get different groups talking to each other and yet, far too often, we sit apart. It’s not that we’re terrible people. The structures just don’t exist to support us as students right now.

We don’t have a space for people from marginalized communities to even think about how they have to navigate Madison College like they’re walking on hot coals. The majority of students are not adequately supported, not for lack of trying by student groups, with events and discussions for the size of their population. Fortunately, there are ideas on ways to help address this problem: chief among them, why not provide a space to meet both these needs?

Madison College is building several new structures at the Truax campus, and there is plentiful space to be used by and for students, but the ideas have yet to be forthcoming. Here’s one: create a space in one of the new buildings for a multicultural student center, a place where our people of diverse backgrounds can enjoy themselves, relax and discuss their daily experiences.

There are a multitude of reasons student leaders and college administrators are excited about this idea. Imagine being in a space where you can learn about global cultures, organize events to talk about your own culture, or just kick back and know that here is a space created to ensure you will be safe in all senses of the word. There can be couches, a TV, maybe a game system and possibly part-time staff. You could hold regular cultural events of varying sizes, hold meetings for the Black Student Union or the Gay Straight Alliance, or have dialogues over pizza about gender roles and media. It can be a serious space, or a laid-back space. What’s important is that it be intended to help ensure all students, no matter who they are, do not have to endure racism, sexism, homophobia and the like. Mentoring and tutoring can go on there, and so can video game tournaments. It can be a social space as well as a place for people who deal doubly with studies and varying forms of marginalization can decompress for once while connecting to each other and Madison College. This can help encourage more participation on campus and help advertise our school to young people of all backgrounds. The point is having a spot for people of all backgrounds to share experiences, ideas where expressions of various ‘isms’ won’t be allowed and give these students a safe space to be themselves.

There are issues with a proposal such as this of course. There are questions still on the staffing costs, precisely how much space and we have yet to have a student forum on the issue. Also, some students often have difficulty seeing the benefits from a space to help acclimate students of color into what is still a mostly-white campus and acclimating gay and lesbian students into a campus and system that is mostly straight. It could be typified by a few as giving “special benefits” and stigmatized as divisive.

Because of concerns such as these, it is important a multicultural student center be open to all people as the entire school system should be. No student should be denied entry except because of actions they take. In fact it would be detrimental to do so. If one is lacking in education on a subject but wishes to learn, is it not better to let them in and teach them rather than shun them? In addition, there’s little divisive about asking for a space to help people long alienated by education systems (look no further than Madison’s own K-12 achievement gap) feel more at home at Madison College.

No matter what happens in relation to this idea, there will be holdouts. There will always be dissenters. Considering this, perhaps it’s finally time to forge ahead and begin working on a solid idea that has the capacity to reshape every student’s experience at Madison College. Perhaps we need to get to work on building a space to celebrate and counsel one another as students, no matter our background, creed or color. Perhaps we need to create a bit of space for ourselves in our school so we can do the hard work of truly getting to know each other.