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Multicultural center will be established

By Contributed
On March 19, 2014

A long-standing dream for the East Tennessee State University campus will soon become reality.  That dream is the establishment of a multicultural center.
A multicultural center planning team was formed last fall to coordinate the work involved in creating this center.  The team operates under the leadership of Angela Claxton-Freeman, a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis who serves as chair of the team; Dr. Joe Sherlin, vice president for Student Affairs; and Mary Jordan, special assistant to the president for Equity and Diversity.   It is comprised of faculty, staff and student representatives from Student Affairs, Multicultural Affairs, Women's Studies, Equity and Diversity, the Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Language and Culture Resource Center and other campus units.
The establishment of a Multicultural Center comes out of the recommendations set forth by the Committee for 125 in its final report as one of several factors that will help ETSU to become "recognized nationally as a student-centered university fostering a transformative educational experience that affirms the value and richness for diversity."  It will be a multifaceted entity that provides educational support programs and support services and also serves as a catalyst for dialogue around diversity-related issues.
While this report from the Committee for 125 came in 2013, though, the idea for the Multicultural Center has been around for much longer.
Sherlin reviewed MCPT members on earlier studies and activities that pointed to the need for such a center, including the work of a cultural diversity task force in the 1990s, which was followed through the years by surveys on the campus climate for women faculty and staff, an evaluation of LGBT issues on campus, and other efforts.  He pointed out that as a result of those, several actions have been taken, such as the adoption of a strategic plan for diversity and of sexual orientation and nondiscrimination policies, as well as diversity training for employees.  
And, according to Jordan, a feasibility review for a Multicultural Center was included as one of the diversity goals in the 2010-15 strategic plan for the university.
In his charge to the MCPT, ETSU President Brian Noland noted that when he was a graduate student and was doing research on the ETSU campus, the need for a Multicultural Center was repeatedly mentioned in interviews he conducted with faculty and staff.  And he believes that now - with the recommendation from the Committee for 125 providing impetus and when an ideal space is becoming available on the second level of the D.P. Culp Center - is the right time to bring the center to fruition.
"This is something that, for me, is beyond exciting, because it is the realization of a 20-year dream," Noland said.  
"We have the right people around the table, from students to faculty to administration, and we have a fantastic team that's pushing this."
Noland told MCPT members that he believes the time is right for the establishment of a Multicultural Center.
"Rather than sitting and waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect moment is here," he said.  "The time is now.  So I look forward to having a chance to dialogue with you ... not only to plan the facility but to plan something that brings us together and that ultimately is a part of our student success efforts.  
"Because this can provide a 'home' for the students across the campus, it can provide something we can recruit students to, and it ultimately will improve our graduation and retention rates.  This is a transformative moment for the university."
In the months since its formation, the MCPT has developed the mission statement and worked toward articulating the vision statement and goals for the Multicultural Center.  
The mission of the Multicultural Center will be "to actively promote, lead, and facilitate the university's commitment to diversity; champion the importance of diversity; provide a supportive atmosphere for students; engage the university community in intercultural dialogue; build collaborative relationships among students, faculty, staff, (and) the community; and challenge barriers to diversity."
Members of the MCPT recently toured the space on the second level of the Culp Center that will become the Multicultural Center.  
Once the Welcome Center relocates to the new parking garage, this space will provide a centralized location that is convenient for students and is dedicated to student support activities.
The group is also developing a timeline for completion of the Multicultural Center, which is targeted for opening during the spring 2015 semester.  
Members of the team are studying similar centers at other institutions, determining best practices, establishing benchmarks, and preparing to coordinate focus group meetings this spring to gather the input of students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community.  
Focus groups are expected to meet throughout the month of April.

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