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U.Va. officially opens four new student centers in Newcomb Hall

The Multicultural Student and LGBTQ Centers reopened and the new spaces include the Interfaith and Latinx Student Centers

The University’s decision to relocate the MSC and LGBTQ Center and open the new Latinx and Interfaith Centers was initiated in June 2019 as part of the 10-year strategic plan project. (Riley Walsh // CD Photo)

The University is celebrating the grand opening of four centers Thursday in Newcomb Hall. The Multicultural Student Center and the LGBTQ Center were relocated, while the Latinx Student Center and Interfaith Center are new additions. 

The main reception for the grand opening will be held in the new MSC — located in the former Game Room on the second floor of Newcomb Hall.

The event offers attendees the opportunity to tour the other new student centers. The relocated LGBTQ Center is in the former Kaleidoscope Room, the new Interfaith Student Center spans rooms 428, 432 and 436 on the fourth floor of Newcomb Hall and the new Latinx Student Center is now in the former Gallery Room on the third floor. 

Dean of Students Allen Groves stated that student input played a serious role in the expansion of the MSC and LGBTQ Center and the creation of the Latinx and Interfaith Student Centers.

“As our student profile continues to become more diverse, it is important to have programmatic and social space that reflects the needs of the community,” Groves said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.

The MSC first opened in October 2016, but with a maximum capacity of just 49 people, students began advocating for a larger space. The University’s decision to relocate the MSC and LGBTQ Center and open the new Latinx and Interfaith Centers was initiated in June 2019 as part of the 10-year strategic plan project, which aims to focus on student diversity development.

Alex Winkowski, the program coordinator for the LGBTQ Center, stated in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the new location will help make it more visible on Grounds.

“I want more students and community members to know that we are a resource for them, and I think that this new location will lead to more students engaging with the center,” Winkowski said.

Winkowksi emphasized that everyone is welcome in the Center, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“I always remind folks that you do not have to have a specific reason to visit the space – you are welcome to just be here,” Winkowski said. “If this is a space where you think you might find community and belonging, I am personally inviting you to stop by.”

Third-year College student Mazzen Shalaby, president of the Muslim Student Association and chair of the Virginia Interfaith Coalition, is excited about working with the student body to build a community in the Interfaith Center. 

In Spring 2019, Shalaby issued a proposal voicing concerns about the size of room 466 on the fourth floor of Newcomb Hall — the previous location designated for prayer and meditation often used by Muslim students in between classes. Since then, Shalaby has been working closely with the University to open the Interfaith Center.

“One of my hopes is that people literally kind of bump into each other and have engaging, intellectual conversations that they learn from and come with a better understanding, better empathy for different people and different backgrounds, different religions and otherwise,” Shalaby said.

As part of the grand opening ceremony, tour groups will move through each of the student centers. In the Interfaith Center, Shalaby is planning to gather student feedback on the types of programming students want to see.

“I'm trying again to get people to engage with the space and build some excitement around it to see what we can do,” Shalaby said. 

The call for a seperate Latinx Student Center received a push in October 2018, when a social Lawn gathering of Latinx and Hispanic students was disbanded by University police. In response, Latinx students published a proposal expressing the need for a center that would serve as a safe space for Latinx and Hispanic students.

Natalie Romero, a fourth-year College student and co-president of Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action in Society, noted in June that the Latinx community had often overwhelmed the limited space in the Multicultural Student Center.

“It always felt like we were dominating the space because we were a very predominant group in the [MSC],” Romero said.

Romero stated that the Latinx Student Center is meant to support the Latinx community with its resources but will also seek to promote deeper institutional changes that seek to benefit their students — including, but not limited to, advocating for the hiring Latinx deans and faculty and bolstering Latinx representation in the University curriculum.

In a recent interview, Romero spoke about designing the space, which includes a mural featuring elements of food and culture from various parts of Latin America. 

“I think what [having the Latinx Student Center] means for a lot of us is representation and hopefully, moving forward, it will look like investing more resources into our community and into our needs,” Romero said.

According to Wes Hester, the University’s director of media relations and deputy spokesperson, no decision has been made as to what will move into the spaces formerly occupied by the MSC and the LGBTQ Center in the Newcomb Basement.