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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

May 2, 2008

Multicultural center becoming a reality

by Anne Krapfl

Construction is under way in the Memorial Union on a multicultural center that should be ready for use by late September. The $1.1 million project is in addition to two years and $21 million worth of MU renovations and additions that wrap up this spring.

The center is located next to the Gold Room in about 3,500 square feet that once was home to the ISU alumni association. It is intended to be not only a welcoming place for multicultural students, but also a place for the entire university community to understand the experiences of students of all cultures and develop a respect for the diversity of individuals.

The center is a student space. Organizations such as the Student Union Board, the numerous multicultural student organizations and the student government groups will coordinate programs in the space, as will staff who serve on the Multicultural Student Programming Advisory Council.

"We have academic centers that are cross-disciplinary," noted vice president for student affairs Tom Hill. "I view this center in the same way. People from various cultures and experiences are going to work together in this center to make us a stronger institution and a better place for all who are here."

No staff offices will be moved to the multicultural center and there won't be full-time employees staffing it. Memorial Union director Richard Reynolds said there may be student employees in the center's front reception area.

Four years in the making

Plans for this multicultural center go back four years, to a survey coordinated by the diversity committee of the Government of the Student Body on respect for differences on campus and what needs a multicultural center might address. Reynolds, who arrived at Iowa State about the same time, embraced the concept of a multicultural center in the MU. There wasn't space or funds at the time, but he kept the idea percolating, as did GSB leaders.

The alumni association's decision to build its own facility adjacent to the Iowa State Center opened up a location in the MU, and the spring 2006 GSB general ballot included an item on student funding of a multicultural center. The referendum passed, and last fall (2007) student fees included an extra $3 per semester (for 10 years) to pay for the center.

What's in it?

The multicultural center's location in the 1977 addition to the MU allowed architects to design a space with a modern feel to it, Reynolds said. This is in contrast to the last two years of construction, which restored a classic feel to much of the building. For example, the center will feature a series of interior glass walls that let natural light pass from the south windows to the glassed, north end of the center.

Functional features of the center will include a reception and lobby/lounge area; library/study room; a large multipurpose room that can be divided into three smaller spaces; a kitchenette with sink, refrigerator and work area; two small rooms (about 70 square feet each) for private study or meditation; and storage space. It also will have a bank of computer workstations, an LCD television that will access programs in various languages, and about a dozen custom lockers to hold students' oversized portfolio cases.

Reynolds said he will use about $0.5 million in MU reserve funds for some additional work in that corner of the second floor that will benefit more than the multicultural center. The restrooms east of the Gold Room will be redone, a 30-year-old air handler system will be replaced and two small meeting/conference rooms will be built in the former area of the student alumni organization. These two rooms will become part of the MU's general room inventory.

Reynolds said a reservation policy for spaces in the multicultural center still is being developed.

"I'm excited to see a multicultural center in the MU materializing," he said, "and the student support of this project has been great."

BCC marches on

Hill said the multicultural center won't supersede the university's Black Cultural Center on Welch Avenue, which observes its 40th year in 2009.

"The Black Cultural Center chronicles history on this campus and is a significant part of the institutional history," Hill said. "I expect that the two centers will complement each other."


"We have academic centers that are cross-disciplinary. I view this center in the same way. People from various cultures and experiences are going to work together in this center to make us a stronger institution and a better place for all who are here."

Tom Hill, vice president for student affairs