Students Planning Cultural Center

Students from several organizations have begun developing a proposal for a student multicultural center after a somewhat favorable response from Associate Vice President of the University, James S. Hoyte, two weeks ago at a panel discussion in Ticknor Lounge.

"Why not give [the center] a shot?" said Hoyte during the discussion which brought students and administrators together to talk about the idea of an on-campus student center.

Since the panel, the Minority Student Alliance (MSA) has been working with other student groups to link ideas for a multicultural center into a formal proposal.

According to MSA co-president Jessy J. Fernandez '98, the proposal that is being developed calls for a center that would "provide a space for all members of the Harvard community to learn more about the many cultures, backgrounds and ethnicities of the student body".

The proposal-in-progress recommends the center "be a resource area where students can come for information on anything from ethnic studies to cultural shows to what to do in case of racial harassment," Fernandez said.

Hoyte's somewhat favorable response at the panel discussion, which led students to develop the proposal, came after years of University opposition to the idea of a multi-cultural center.

"This is not a new issue," said Lamelle D. Rawlins '99, president of the Undergraduate Council. "This is something that has resurfaced over the years."

According to Alexander T. Nguyen '99, co-president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian American Association (AAA) and a Crimson editor, the idea for a center first surfaced in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The movement soon developed into a call for a "Third World Students Center."

In 1982 the University asked Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Plummer professor of Christian morals and minister in Memorial Church, to determine whether a multicultural center would benefit the campus. According to Nguyen, Gomes concluded such a center should not be formed because it would polarize the campus.

Last year, the MSA worked with 15 student groups to rally in front of University Hall for a multicultural center. However, their requests were turned down by Dean of Students Archie C. Epps, III, according to Nguyen.

Despite Hoyte's favorable response at the recent panel, Epps, who also attended the discussion, still disagrees with the idea of a multicultural center.

"We should put our effort into making the whole work rather than establishing separate parts," said Epps in a telephone interview. "I think it would promote racial separation."

But many students say that a multicultural center is necessary to combat the divisions that students argue already exist at Harvard.

"I was very excited to become part of the diverse community Harvard prided itself on," said Jessy J. Fernandez '98, co-president of the MSA. "It was a disappointment, then, that I found the intense racial and ethnic segregation that defines campus life."

Joshua D. Powe '98, director of minority concerns for the Undergraduate Council agrees that there is little interaction between cultures at Harvard.

"Even though they let in students from many backgrounds there's very little interaction on a cultural level," said Powe.

Powe said he hopes the center would primarily serve and educational purpose but also have offices for student groups, libraries, and a lounge area where speakers could give presentations, exhibits could be held, and students could interact.

"We learn the most through social interactions," said Powe. "The social dimension of the center would provide an important way to increase communication between students."

Former Hillel chair David J. Andorsky '97, who was a member of the panel, concurs that the center would be a positive contribution to campus.

"By bringing everyone together, you're promoting education," said Andorsky. "If you make it easier for groups to interact, you'd see a jump in inter-ethnic activities. This will lead to an increased understanding of each other."

However, a number of undergraduates said they feel an on-campus multicultural center would separate students rather than bring them together.

Andrew P. Schwartz '99 of the Harvard Objectivist Club said he believes racism can not be combated through the establishment of such a center.

"The main idea that underlies racism is that the individual's identity is determined by his race," said Schwartz. "Multiculturalism takes this idea to heart. I think the consequence of this is separation."

Calling the idea for a multicultural center "a fraud," Christopher M. Griffth '97 said that the only oppressed minorities on campus are the conservative groups.

"[The multicultural center will] focus on third world, backwards countries," said Griffith.

According to Griffith the center should also focus on the "old south" because people from the region represent an American culture that is part of the lives of both blacks and whites.

"If they're going to stick to the true definition of the word multiculturalism, they should include [the old south]," said Griffith.

Although there are people against the idea of forming the center, Rawlins said she believes it "imperative that the University make a tangible commitment to diversity."

"Establishment of a multicultural student center would send a clear message to students that the administration wants to celebrate the differences in students' backgrounds," said Rawlins