Laurie Melchionne, Editor in Chief
Caution tape currently zigzags across the space between F-Wing and the E-Wing bookstore. However, by the Fall of 2022, it will be the home to a glittering new hub of cultural and racial belonging.
Meet the Multicultural Center.
Conceptualized in the Fall of 2020 by a committee of students, faculty, and staff, this new center has been in the works for years. Dr. Ashlee Roberts, the Executive Director of Student Affairs Planning and Operations, chairs the committee and revealed all the Stockton community has to look forward to.
“We want it to be an engaging and interactive space,” said Roberts. “We want people to be able to go in and participate in scholarship and socialization, and feel connected with the culturally relevant programming happening in that space.”
Formerly a computer lab, the 4,100 square-foot space will be transformed to house an outdoor garden, a reception foyer, a library, a multi-purpose area for presentations and small-scale performances, and a grand living room with a fully-functioning kitchenette for cultural food demonstrations, relaxation, and so much more.
All of these facilities will come at no extra cost to students, as the project is funded by the university itself.
While the heart of the multicultural center will focus on intersectionality and closing racial gaps on campus, Roberts has been spearheading the practicality of the center’s physical structure in collaboration with Dr. Christopher Catching, the Vice President of Student Affairs, and Don Hudson, the Vice President for Facilities and Operations.
A director will be assigned to coordinate programming once the center opens in time for the 2022-2023 academic year. In addition to Roberts and other members of the steering committee, students will interview candidates applying for this leadership position. Integrating students into the hiring process was important for Roberts, who also served on a search committee for the University of Memphis’ Assistant Coordinator of Student Activities during her undergraduate years. She knows from first-hand experience the value of involving students in major hiring decisions at Stockton.
“We definitely want someone who is equity-minded, someone who has demonstrated experience doing cultural programming and social justice efforts,” Roberts explained. “We absolutely want someone who is going to be collaborative. The Multicultural Center is not a replacement for anyone else doing culturally competent and inclusive work across campus.”
While the center will be a centralized space for traditionally marginalized groups to interact, Roberts explained that ensuring its success will be founded on cross-campus collaboration.
“Even if a student is not a member of ALANA (African American, LatinX, Native American, Asian) student groups,” said Roberts, “if they’re doing culturally relevant programming that fits the purpose of the Multicultural Center, they could program there.”
Not only is Roberts involved with designing the functionality of the center, but she has also carefully cultivated its founding ideals for months.
“Being part of a minority group on campus, it can be hard to find your peers,” Roberts explained. “You can get to class and be the only person of color there and you might not see immediate faces that make you feel familiar, and of course we want students to engage with people of different races and cultures, but when you’re marginalized and minoritized in this space, it can feel isolating and this [the Multicultural Center] is also about fostering that cultural sense of belonging on campus.”
The intersectionality of the center’s goals is a major aspect of why it exists. For example, the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Center (finished in 2019) will be inclusive of racialized identities and disability factors. Think of it as a sister center to the Multicultural Center.
“If a student is Black and they are trans, those are two marginalized identities supported in these areas,” said Roberts. “Having a marginalized identity in one area doesn’t mean you already are included in the other, and that’s where social justice education comes in. It’s also about educating everyone about the way we navigate our privileges and marginalizations, and how we foster community.”
Community is the foundation of the Multicultural Center, and will only propel Stockton forward in its dedication to bridging social, racial, and cultural gaps during the college experience.
Be on the lookout for more announcements in the next few months, as there will be activities in celebration of this fall’s grand opening.