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,
"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.