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Multicultural Student Center Initiative seeks physical space on Grounds

Initiative builds momentum in new academic year

<p>The Multicultural Student Center Initiative is working with administration to set up a physical space for multicultural communities on Grounds.</p>

The Multicultural Student Center Initiative is working with administration to set up a physical space for multicultural communities on Grounds.

Although the University seeks to serve the student body in a variety of ways, a group of students noticed a void in what the University provides for students. The Multicultural Student Center Initiative — an organization with the goal of opening a multicultural resource center for students on Grounds — was born to fill this void.

While the University has an LGBTQ Center, a program coordinator for multicultural student services and Asian/Asian Pacific student services and programs, these programs function separately, without a unified space to collaborate.

“There’s simply a lack of collaboration and connection with multicultural students on Grounds,” MSCI board member and fourth-year College student Tom Pilnik said. “Multicultural students, and all students in general, feel more comfortable, more at home and then do better academically, socially, extracurricularly if there is a space for them, like a multicultural center, that can help them feel a part of the community.”

Beginning in fall 2014, the initiative was comprised of a small executive board who intended to draft a formal proposal for a multicultural center. After research and preparation, MSCI hosted a forum in December to present their ideas to administrators and students alike.

“What we weren’t expecting was administrators to agree without us [present] before even turning in a formal proposal,” said MSCI board member Catalina Pinto, a third-year College student. “We were able to move into the phase where we, as an initiative, [can consider] what is the best way to make sure the entire community is involved in this process. It’s a multicultural center, so it should be multicultural from the very beginning.”

Currently, the MSCI is planning to open the initiative up for discussion and engage students in the decision-making process. In spring of 2016, the group plans to host a series of roundtable discussions to elicit student feedback under the supervision of a moderator.

“We’re looking at several decades of people wanting to have a center, but never making a really good effort to make it happen,” Pinto said. “As an internationally-renowned University, we should probably have this by now. More than half of our peer institutions already have multicultural centers. It’s not a crazy idea.”

The MSCI board has noted that U.Va. is the only ACC school without a multicultural center. However, with the help of University administration, they hope to have a completed center open within the next year.

“I think the challenge just lies with sitting and waiting and hoping someone moves somewhere and allows us to enter into a space,” Pilnik said. “What we’ve found is that everyone we’ve talked to is super on board — all the students [and] the administrators we work with.”

Visualizing a collaborative multicultural center in the future, MSCI board members hope the center will be reflective of student needs and interests, whether this calls for lounge space, large meeting space or office hours from a career center or CAPS representative.

“We have incredibly functional multicultural groups on Grounds,” Pilnik said. “These organizations do so much and draw so many people to their events. If they have a space in which they can collaborate, I can’t even imagine the things that could happen.”

MSCI hopes to not only impact established groups on Grounds, but also to help incoming students feel at home and increase retention in multicultural communities.

“Another aspect of this is the recruitment and retention of students,” Pilnik said. “It’s no secret that we are not as great as other schools at recruiting, accepting or retaining multicultural students.”

Overall, the initiative seeks to build a better future in which all students feel they have opportunity to excel, collaborate and engage in conversation. For Pinto, these goals resonate on a personal level.

“[For] a lot of my time at U.Va., I’ve been thinking what changes can I make now so that perhaps my [younger] sister may not have to necessarily face as many obstacles as I did or [may] have more opportunities than I did,” Pinto said. “This University is a fantastic place, but I think that we could probably do a better job of providing opportunities for people.”