Multicultural Student Center celebrates its second year at U.Va.

The Center’s interns and student director reflect on its past and future

The Center celebrated its second anniversary at U.Va. last week. Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

The Multicultural Student Center, which has provided a space in the basement of Newcomb Hall for underrepresented students at the University since 2016, celebrated its second anniversary at U.Va.

The MSC is overseen by the Office of the Dean of Students for Multicultural Student Services. 

For its birthday, the MSC held a week-long series of events, including an official birthday party and a “multicultural consciousness series” to talk about the history of the space.

Second-year College student Ashley Grullon, who works at the front desk at the MSC, believes the openness and inclusivity of the space itself has fostered the growth of a tight knit community.

“[We are a] very bonded community here,” Grullon said. “Everybody here gets along, knows each other, or just randomly share tables sometimes … I’ve met a lot of people from just working at the desk … It’s hands down my favorite spot at U.Va.”

The MSC is run by a group of paid student interns — a leadership development intern, an identity development intern and two multicultural education and dialogue interns — who are responsible for hosting at least one event per month. Some do more.

The interns are led by the student director Natalie Romero — a third-year College student — though she joked that the interns “don't even need [her] help.”

One of Romero’s proudest accomplishments, she said, was the makeover she gave the space. By adding student art, hooking up TVs, setting up a Spotify account and moving around the tables, she says the space now acquired a more welcoming feel. 

“I’ve noticed that a lot of community groups that I had previously not seen in the Center, are at the Center now more and more often,” Romero said. “And I think that's [because] we’re starting to have that image that you can come to us if you need anything, and it’s not that that wasn’t there before, I just think that it’s more apparent now.”

Multicultural Student Services hired a new program coordinator — Sadira Glendenning — to work specifically with Latinx and Native American students. Glendenning started work with the MSC Monday, Romero said.

“She’s not necessarily part of the MSC, she’s more with the Multicultural Student Services, but still, she is going to be a great addition to the center and a great person to work with, so were super excited to have her,” Romero said.

Glendenning did not respond to request for comment.

Romero said that though they have made huge strides in the past two years, there is still work to be done. 

One initiative she said she hopes to improve upon in the coming year is the multicultural outreach event the MSC holds for first-year students. The dinner event — which is held during the first week of each academic year — invites many multicultural groups to have a culturally-diverse meal in Newcomb Dining Hall while getting to know each other.

“I want to make sure that we actually integrate different groups, like different [organizations] and committees, that will allow for community building at the very beginning. How it's set up now, I feel like now it's kind of a bit divided and I'm hoping that moving forward we can try a different approach.”

She also mentioned the possibility of setting up events with more student organizations in the hopes of making special status organizations seem more inclusive.

“I’m hoping working with them [will] build a way of debunking some of the myths of special status [organizations] … making things that seem kind of like, ‘Oh that's not us’ into something that we all can enjoy and be a part of,” Romero said.

However, Romero says that in order for the MSC to grow, they will need the help of the University. 

She says that one way in which members of the University community can show their support is by opening their ears to the demands of the underrepresented students wanting for their voices to be heard, such as the Latinx students who have pushed for establishing a space to call their own, as well as the Asian Leaders Council’s report advocating for more diverse representation of both faculty and in the academic programs the University offers.

From the administration side, she says the University could have a more active role in the MSC’s domain while still preserving the self-governance aspect of student life. 

“I think the University could take a role in taking some of the burden off of the students, because it's a lot of student work that is going into facilitating student life at U.Va.,” Romero said. “And we understand that self governance is really important but at the same time the University as the institution has … the funding to do what the MSC cannot.”

Vicki Gist — assistant dean of students and director of Multicultural Student Services — said in an email statement to The Cavalier Daily that the University is working to address these concerns. 

“These comments echo similar sentiments shared in recent proposals from Latinx students, as well as the Asian Leaders Council, regarding their desire to have the University address concerns about their experience, both in and out of the classroom,” Gist said. “From what I’ve gleaned so far, University leaders have responded positively to those concerns, and are actively seeking ways to address them.”

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