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UC and Student Groups Begin Multicultural Center Talks

The Undergraduate Council and other student organizations have redoubled their efforts to create a multicultural center, reaching out to College administrators and scheduling a town hall about the issue this week.

The increased push for the center follows a UC referendum last fall in which students voted in favor of the idea. Council President Catherine L. Zhang ’19 said in a Sunday interview that she has already begun working with administrators to lay the groundwork for a future multicultural center.

“In our conversations with Dean Khurana, in our meeting with the OSL, even before the campaign happened and before we were elected, we were already having these conversations,” Zhang said.

The Multicultural Center Coalition — a student organization calling for College administrators to designate a space “dedicated to fostering diversity, belonging, and inclusion on campus”— will host a town hall on Friday to gather student input on the possible creation of a multicultural center.

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The coalition, led by UC representatives Salma Abdelrahman ’20 and Nicholas Whittaker ’19, initially helped galvanize support for the November referendum, which ultimately garnered support from more than half of voters last fall. Per UC policy, that result meant the referendum was considered binding, and the Council was tasked with drafting a policy proposal about its plans for such a center.

The town hall will help the coalition gather student opinions before drafting the proposal, which will then be given to College administrators, according to Abdelrahman.

“What we wanted to do was make sure that student input was central to the policy proposal that we were going to be putting on administrators’ desks,” Abdelrahman said. “This town hall is really for students to tell us how they’re feeling about the center, what their needs are for the center, what should staffing look like, what should amenities look like.”

Attempts to erect a multicultural center on campus have gained considerable momentum in the last few months in the wake of policy and demographic shifts both at Harvard and across the nation.

Abdelrahman said the College's finalized sanctions on single-gender social groups and the activities of the Trump administration in Washington—viewed by many as hostile to minorities—have helped drive campus support for a multicultural center. Abdelrahman added that as Harvard becomes more diverse, the student body has shown increased desire for such a space.

Nonetheless, Zhang, who campaigned on a platform calling for a multicultural center, said getting administrators on board with the idea will likely be an uphill climb.

Dreams of a centralized space available for use by students of all races, backgrounds, and ethnicities extend back decades. In 1995, 22 student groups submitted a proposal to former Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III urging the administration to designate space for an “inter-ethnic resource center.” Epps rejected the proposal out of fear it would promote “racial separation.”

“It’s definitely not going to be easy. I mean, they’ve been trying to advocate this for 30 years,” Zhang said.

The Coalition’s town hall on the center will take place Friday in Fong Auditorium at 2 p.m.

—Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

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