Brightly colored balloons and streamers adorned the Multicultural, Latinx, Interfaith and LGTBQ Student Centers at Newcomb Hall Friday, welcoming students for their second anniversary event. At 2 p.m., the centers slowly transformed from students busy studying to a celebration of the spaces that promote inclusion and engagement for historically marginalized communities.
Four student centers make up the University’s Multicultural Student Services, under the Office of the Dean of Students – the Multicultural Student Center, Latinx Student Center, Interfaith Student Center and the LGBTQ Center.
The MSC opened in the fall of 2016 as a product of the Multicultural Student Center Initiative founded by student leaders in the fall of 2014. It only moved from the basement of Newcomb to the second level in 2020 — at that time, the newly-formed LSC and ISC were established on the third and fourth floor, respectively, and the LGBTQ Center was moved to the third floor.
Assistant Director of MSS Jannatul Pramanik said the anniversary event honors this journey and the centers’ history of student activism. The events provided a chance to re-engage community members with the services and safe spaces provided at these locations.
“It has been two years since we've all moved up in Newcomb,” Pramanik said. “It's a good way to commemorate the past and also give people an opportunity to look forward to doing more and getting more students engaged with the spaces that we have.”
Fourth-year College student Alessandro Coreas is a “familia” head for the Latinx peer mentoring program, which pairs Latinx students with mentors and places them into “families” to establish a sense of community and belonging at a predominantly white institution.
Coreas said he has been moved by how far the LSC has come since students initially fought for the center’s founding.
“I think it just means a lot because we're always going to be pushing for representation no matter what, so this really meant a lot because this is something that people have been advocating for a long time,” Coreas said. “We had a list of our demands as a community and this was one of them. Not all the demands that are in the list have been met, but it's good that the students were able to push [for] this, and the University after a long, long time was able to finally listen.”
Second-year College student Briana Corrielus looked back on this journey as inspirational.
“It makes it even more special to know that students are able to fight and we're able to win as long as we all work together and keep pushing and asking for it,” Corrielus said.
While MSS staff and students have come and gone, the sense of community has remained constant.
Josué Castillo, third-year College student and cultural heritage and awareness intern for MSS, described the support that he received from Pramanik, as well as from his own best friend and mentor who held the position before him and encouraged him to apply.
“It was their welcoming presence that made me want to get involved with MSS just because I really loved being in that space and I thought, as a first year, [that] this would be a great way for me to get more involved and be working with such amazing people,” Castillo said. “I was very nervous — I was a first year and I didn't really know what I was doing — but they took me in and I'm really grateful for that.”
Alisa Negrón, Class of 2021 alumna and student affairs fellow for the MSS, first began as a mentee in the Latinx peer mentoring program before becoming a mentor and familia head.
Pramanik said she felt supported and inspired by MSS as an undergraduate student — a sentiment that later influenced her to join the staff.
“Before my fifth year, the only places that I really went to study or hang out or make connections was in my dorm,” Pramanik said. “Now, all the people that really supported me were in this beautiful space and so I just think about what it meant to be able to spend my last year at U.Va. as a student in this newly formulated Multicultural Student Center, where I could see all the professional staff in one place and really be able to make connections.”
The meaningful experiences Pramanik had when the MSC opened — as well as her primary experiences as a staff member — have inspired her to continue fostering this sense of community for any new students searching for a safe space on Grounds.
“One of the first events that I put on was the welcome event that we do for first years and transfer students at the beginning of the year,” Pramanik said. “That was just so cool to be on the other side of actually welcoming in all of these new faces to the University, specifically first years from the communities that we serve. The same feeling that I felt from other professionals, I have the opportunity to re-emulate that and be able to create those experiences for other students.”
Each generation inspires the next, and thus to celebrate the center that’s part of an incredible group of students, the second anniversary featured a whirlwind of activities like karaoke and Just Dance, food and party games including pictionary and charades. The centers were packed, with between 30 and 50 students in each space.
As a special project, Indiyah Mabry, student director of the MSC and fourth-year College student, is creating a video compilation of participants individually saying happy birthday to the center.
“Because I feel like the MSC is my home and has been for the past four years, I want it to be as much of a cheesy, family birthday party as possible,” Mabry said. “I’m also going to make a video of happy birthday messages to the MSC, bridging the gap between old people like me who know the old MSC and what it means to us, and then new people who are making this space their own space. It’s not a gap necessarily, but meshing those two together.”
Ultimately, students came out, had fun, remembered the past, looked towards the future and celebrated the space that has allowed them to build community.
“This is one of the spaces on Grounds where multicultural students are centered, where multicultural students can find the community and feel empowered,” Castillo said. “I remember my first year, the MSC was where I met all my friends, where I went in between classes. It was one of the few spaces that made me feel welcomed here. That's the purpose that we're serving — it’s to give students a chance to feel like they have a community — people can come and be themselves fully.”
To students still on the fence about visiting, Mabry said the MSS is a safe place on Grounds and that the staff truly make the effort to care for every student that walks through the door.
“I tell my peer advisees, ‘This is your home,’” Mabry said. “It's very difficult to find a place of belonging at a PWI being a person of color, specifically being a Black person [and] a queer person, and I think MSS truly understands that and tries to remedy that. Honestly, you have nothing to lose but you have everything to gain by coming to our centers.”