The University has revealed plans to move the Multicultural Student Center and LGBTQ Center from their current location in the lower level of Newcomb Hall, in order to expand the spaces’ capacity. The project will move the MSC to what was previously the Game Room on the second floor of Newcomb, while the LGBTQ Center will be moved to a location on the third floor that has not yet been decided.
The move is part of the University's strategic planning project and is expected to be completed and available for use by the middle of the fall semester. The strategic plan outlines a roadmap of goals and initiatives that serve the vision for “a great and good University,” moving toward the year 2030 and the University’s third century. Strategic goals of the plan include strengthening the foundation of the University environment, cultivating a sense of community and promoting research and service.
The MSC opened October 2016 in the basement of Newcomb, after the Kaleidoscope Room on the third floor of Newcomb had served as the Center for Cultural Fluency since 2004. In its current location, maximum capacity in the MSC is limited to 49 people due to fire code constraints. However, about one third of all University students identify as members of marginalized or underrepresented communities. The limitation on space and lack of visibility — due to its secluded basement location — has led students to advocate for more adequate space.
Vicki Gist, assistant dean of students and director of Multicultural Student Services, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the new Game Room location was proposed as a potential space for the MSC by students in a working group in 2016 and was advocated for by students again this spring. Gist noted this particular location will significantly increase maximum occupancy and enhance accessibility and visibility for the multicultural student community on Grounds. The occupancy of the Game Room is close to that of the Newcomb Ballroom, which can hold at most 600 people.
“It will allow us to meet a variety of needs — hangout, study, programming, one-on-one and group advising — in the space without disruption to other activities,” Gist said. “The relocated and expanded MSC will also be more visible to visiting prospective students and their families, and more easily accessible to students generally.”
The plans also include the creation of two new spaces — one designated for the Latinx community and one for interfaith prayer and meditation. The University is exploring potential options on the third floor of Newcomb for the Latinx space and on the fourth floor for the interfaith space.
Currently, room 466 on the fourth floor of Newcomb serves as a quiet space for prayer and meditation and is frequently used by Muslim students to fulfill daily prayers between classes.
Mazzen Shalaby, a third-year Batten student and president of the Virginia Interfaith Coalition, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the limitations of the existing meditation space has become evident in recent years for its lack of size and flexibility.
Shalaby said the VIC began to call attention to this issue at the start of last semester, issued a proposal for an interfaith prayer space in the spring and began petitioning and working with University administrators soon after. Shalaby said the VIC facilitated communication between different faith groups on-Grounds — noting the Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu communities as groups without a designated place of worship — and administrators to envision a new space that can be utilized by all for prayer and meditation and to serve as a reservable space specifically for religious groups.
“We really hope this space allows for people of all faiths to have a place where they can practice in a welcoming setting that they can call their own, and that it will facilitate an increase in interfaith interactions and relationships by bringing students from diverse faith backgrounds together into one space on Grounds,” Shalaby said.
Latinx student organizations released a proposal last October entitled “Our University to Shape.” Among the 12 policies outlined in the document was a focus on Latinx presence on Grounds — specifically, the need for a designated space to adequately address challenges that target the Latinx community, listing issues such as language barriers, immigration status and the first-generation college experience.
“The Hispanic/Latinx community at UVA requires its own center to specifically address the socioeconomic barriers, cultural stereotyping, and institutional marginalization that often impact the Hispanic/Latinx college experience,” the proposal says.
Natalie Romero, a fourth-year College student, served as MSC director and currently serves as co-president of Political Latinxs United for Movement & Action in Society. Romero said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily that she and other students advocates spent much of the past year petitioning for the new space and noted that administrators initially put off the proposal, before eventually agreeing to a new MSC and additional space for the Latinx community.
According to Romero, one reason for their disagreement was the idea that allocating this resource to the Latinx community would cause other groups and organizations to feel entitled to the same opportunity. However, Romero made the point that Latinx students were a predominant group in the MSC, occupying much of its limited space.
“It always felt like we were dominating the space because we were a very predominant group in the [MSC],” Romero said. “And it just wasn't enough to fit us in there. I would respond that all students deserve the resources that they feel they need to succeed, and if that is the demand of different groups, then that’s what they should get.”
Romero said that the new space will be used for community-building through activities such as tutoring, programming and studying, but these resources are only one aspect of how the University must become a more sustainable environment for its Latinx students.
“These are victories, but at the same time only small steps,” Romero said. “And what really needs to be done is to make U.Va. a space that is welcoming to its disenfranchised students, and marginalized students, even the DACA students or undocumented students — like we have a Latinx space, but how many Latinx undocumented students are being accepted to the University compared to other universities in Virginia?”
Romero added the space is meant to support the Latinx community with its resources, but more importantly, it will promote institutional changes that will benefit its students — such as hiring Latinx deans and faculty and bolstering Latinx representation in the University curriculum.
As the University moves forward with the project, Gist said that student voices will be crucial in planning the design and furnishing of the new MSC. Likewise, students will play a role in the future repurposing of the current MSC and LGBTQ Center spaces in the lower level of Newcomb.
The budget for the project has not been determined, as planning for build-out and furnishing is not finalized.