Make Space for Multicultural Student Center

Today, representatives from the student body, the administration and the faculty are convening in a panel to discuss the possibilities of a multicultural student center. We support the move to explore questions of ethnic issues on campus in an open discussion forum and hope that the administration and faculty will listen to the student voice on this issue. We encourage the panel to consider the creation of a multicultural student center built on the model of Radcliffe's Lyman Common Room.

The argument for the center is straightforward: a multicultural student center would enhance interaction between Harvard's ethnic organizations while facilitating the dissemination of cultural awareness to the Harvard community at large. As a letter signed by more than fifteen leaders of cultural organizations and over 400 Harvard affiliates in late Oct. 1995, summed up: the creation of a multicultural student center would serve to "reaffirm Harvard's commitment to a diverse and inclusive community."

We believe that the Lyman Common Room provides a good paradigm with which the panel can begin discussion. The common room serves the multiple needs of its constituents--offering students a relaxed environment in which to hang out, student groups a space in which to hold meeting and the whole campus a central location where information can be shared and issues related to women addressed--while not isolating those women and men whom it serves. Ideally, we would like to see the student center based on the model of Phillips Brooks House, that is an expanded collection of rooms in which various groups could meet, hold interethnic events and share ideas. However, we realize the practical spatial limitations of this option.

Regardless of its form, we hope that a multicultural student center would provide ethnic organizations with a central meeting space as well as a locus of information and social interaction, while facilitating the increase of cultural awareness on our campus.

However, a word of caution: a center devoted solely to ethnic and cultural organizations runs the danger of self-segregation and its inevitable counterpart--marginalization. One of the hall-marks of the post-World War II Harvard community has been the commitment to a shared collective culture comprised of myriad ethnicities and cultural backgrounds that the diverse student body represents. The creation of a multicultural student center could potentially undermine that shared experience by separating certain ethnicities and exacerbating divisions. We expect the panel to address these dangers. We need to ensure that a multicultural student center would be able to welcome any Harvard student who wishes to explore the varied cultural experiences of his or her fellow students. That is, Harvard should be creating a multicultural student center, not a minority student center.

Nonetheless, we are thrilled that the panel is convening and firmly believe that a carefully constructed multicultural student center could aid us in our challenge toward finding a balance between respect for diverse traditions and an integrated college life.