Home for ethnic organizations

A group of 10 to 15 students are hoping to change what they believe to be a glorified student cafeteria space into a place promoting diversity and unity.

The Ethnic Student Center Committee is trying to implement an Ethnic Student Center on the second floor of the Union in what is now the Multicultural Lounge.

“If approved, we would change the lounge into the Ethnic Student Center,” said Leo Almeida, a coordinator for the Center. “The Multicultural Lounge was put there for multicultural organizations and students, but right now it is glorified cafeteria space.”

The group hopes the Center will promote a sense of diversity on campus and allow students a space of their own to discuss different cultures and ethnicities.

“The values behind [the Ethnic Student Center are] unity, promoting diversity, being open minded and welcoming everyone,” Almeida said.

Almeida went on to stress the overall goal of the Center: promoting unity between multicultural and ethnic organizations.

“I was supportive of the concept that upper class students did need to meet more regularly in terms of being able to work collectively with [each other],” said Bettina Shuford, former director of Multicultural Affairs and Initiatives at the University. “[That means] having a structure that would give [ethnic organizations and groups] the opportunity to collaborate more and be more effective on campus.”

If the Ethnic Student Center was approved by the University, Almeida and Higginbotham hope smaller organizations would have a home.

“There are smaller organizations that don’t get a lot of recognition [on campus], like the Caribbean organization,” Almeida said. “We want them to have a home on campus and a place to go.”

Almeida added he wants the Center to be a place where organizations can come together and ensure they aren’t doing multicultural events on the same day through a calendar posted in the Center.

“The whole idea [with the calendar] is we are already minorities, we are already small in numbers, so why would you [keep] another minority group from supporting your events?” he said. “We are hoping to put smaller groups together to create bigger events.”

Karina Higginbotham, a sophomore co-committee member, emphasized the importance of other schools, like Ohio State, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Ball State’s ethnic centers.

“There are so many other schools who have ethnic student centers,” Higginbotham, a nursing major, said. “We have a women’s center, a lesbian/gay research center and I think it is necessary to cater to all the students and an Ethnic Student Center is a way to do that. Plus it is an asset to the school.”

Shuford agrees an Ethnic Student Center can be beneficial to the student body.

“I have done research in this area and a lot of research says [an Ethnic Student Center] is effective,” she said.

Higginbotham also feels a Center is beneficial because it will bring attention to the University’s stress on diversity.

“In the BGSU mission statement, they say something about diversity, this diversity that,” Higginbotham said. “To me, all these other schools have an ethnic student center or a multicultural center welcoming different people [to campus], but yet we don’t have anything welcoming students here.”

Although the campus does have a Center for Multicultural Affairs and Initiatives, Almedia states both can exist together.

“People realize we already have a center for multicultural initiatives, but what people don’t realize is that when we did research, if an ethnic studies center would work on our campus, students were for it,” he said. “We also looked at other campuses and found that a lot of those campuses had a center for multicultural initiatives as well as an ethnic student center.”

Despite having a Center for Multicultural Affairs and Initiatives, when Higginbotham first came to campus as a freshmen she felt the student body was divided and separated, but she hopes the Ethnic Student Center can make the campus more connected.

To ensure the student body is still behind them on the initiative, they have continued to promote the Center through presentations, petitions and pamphlets. The group already has over 400 student signatures in support of the Ethnic Student Center.

“I hope this center will bridge some common ground and just show that we are all human beings no matter where we come from, who we are or what we look like,” Higginbotham said.

The group holds meeting at 8 p.m. every Thursday in the Multicultural Lounge in the Student Union.