Inside Iowa State
Apr. 03, 1998
What a multicultural center could be
- Houston Dougharty, associate dean, Dean of Students Office
- Gladys Nortey, graduate student, journalism and mass communication
- Lynn Paxson, assistant professor, department of architecture
- Yasanthi Perera, senior, biology
- Ricardo Salvador, associate professor, department of agronomy
- John Stein, training specialist, Human Resource Services
- Sidi Tandia, program coordinator, International Students and Scholars
Inside recently invited a group of faculty, staff and students to a roundtable discussion of diversity issues at Iowa State.
In this, the second of three stories, we share some of their comments about proposals to create a multicultural center at Iowa State.
Tandia: A lot of international students say, "We don't want to be in a multicultural center if the white students aren't a part of it." And other students will say, "We don't want to be in a multicultural center if gays and lesbians are a part of it." I try to understand the concept of a university as a marketplace of ideas, where students are exploring. They're forming their characters. Yet, you have international students here saying, "Yes, we want everything to be in there." You have another one saying, "I disagree." I ask the question, "What is the fear?" I sense there is a fear.
Perera: I think it should be pursued, definitely. I think people tend to gloss over the differences and hope that everything will be OK, but that doesn't achieve anything. We obviously are different, and by recognizing that, we can move on and appreciate each other's differences because we can all learn from each other. By not asking questions, we assume things about people and stereotype people and that doesn't get you anywhere.
I think the multicultural center should be very inclusive. It should not only have priorities for international students and LGBTA things. It should have aspects of the dominant culture, because that's also multicultural. I can learn something from them.
Dougharty: At other institutions it works. There are wonderful examples of multicultural centers on other campuses that have different spins. The institution I came from had one that was both a place where folks could come and hang, where there were events held, and where [there was a teaching center for] infusing multiculturalism in the curriculum.
Stein: I think we could do a better job of celebrating differences, both on campus and in the Ames community. Other communities around us have heritage days and celebrate their heritages. I think we can do a much better job of that and a multicultural center could be a vehicle. I also think that spouses and families should be involved through a multicultural center and that it could be a real genuine link to the community.
Salvador: I do see it as yet one more place with a big vulnerability of essentially not being able to draw the people who most need what such a center would have to offer.
[If the center offered resources appealing to professional interests], you would be taking the center to people instead of expecting people to gravitate to the center. For instance, there's a very large concern about how to balance the number of large-scale farming operations in this state and the concerns of people [in small operations]. We don't have sufficient knowledge about how to make it on small acreages ... whereas the world over, there's lots of expertise on how that's done and very successfully. These can be sophisticated, technical sources of expertise that we could bring to campus and offer to people.
Paxson: All you need is a reason to go some place and you make it over to that building. If you put into this building things that we don't have, like a large place to show movies, one of those high-tech, long-distance classrooms, seminar rooms and hold classes there too, [people will visit] and maybe they'll come back.
Tandia: We have close to 500 international scholars who visit this campus at different times of the year. What a wonderful opportunity to have international scholars give lectures about the rest of the world. I think an effective multicultural center might be able to address this.
Nortey: Maybe it's where Student Affairs and faculty members and the whole university community have a place -- a place to be inclusive, but also to be very educational. I'm overwhelmed with people getting hung up on stuff like, "It should have a place for Americans." I don't know if we're missing the point here or if people aren't understanding. [If the educational element is missing,] why don't we just use the Union?
Salvador: [Concerns that the center may "Balkanize" the community] come from a perspective of homogenization, a perspective of saying that what's best for all of us is to be alike and to subsume any differences we have. It's a poorly chosen example because if you look at the history of the Balkans, a major problem, whose symptom we're seeing right now, is that people's cultural and religious identities were suppressed for decades and they're learning it can't be suppressed forever. You would have prevented a lot of what you see right now in the Balkans if people had been allowed the free expression of their differences.
Dougharty: We do get caught up in this notion of "Let's talk about what we all have in common. How do you describe yourself? Well, I'm a human." That, I think, is a cop-out to not saying, "There are wonderful differences among us and we can learn from those." The only thing I think we should be homogenizing here is dairy products.
Next: Roundtable members look at ways faculty and staff can make the campus more welcoming and friendly.
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