Renovated multicultural lounges offer safe space for marginalized students on campus
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and University Housing hosted a grand reopening of the Cesar Chavez, Vicky Barner and Cousins Active Multi Ethnic Organization (CAMEO) multicultural lounges on Tuesday. Each lounge featured three speakers, and the Chavez event in Mosher-Jordan Hall drew in a crowd of around 50 students.
Diversity and Inclusion Director Amanda McLittle said the remodeling is part of a DEI initiative to renovate all multicultural lounges by 2021 in honor of the Trotter Center’s anniversary. She explained housing manages 18 multicultural spaces; 16 of which are multicultural lounges. In 2015, the University made a commitment to renovate all 16 of the lounges by 2021. The even celebrated the lounges which were renovated over the summer.
McLittle emphasized the importance of multicultural lounges, saying they provide a welcoming environment for minorities on campus.
“A multicultural lounge really celebrates different identities on campus and is meant to be a safe space for students of marginalized identities,” McLittle said. “So, the programming that happens in these lounges will focus on multicultural issues and topics.”
The first speaker, Senior Associate Director of University Housing Amir Baghdadchi, explained the lounge is dedicated to Chavez because he empowered people to become activists.
“This celebrates the bold life of Cesar Chavez, right there, all around us, who fought for the rights of farm laborers,” Baghdadchi said. “But he did so much more than that. In being a champion of the rights of farmworkers, he became an icon of social change. He created a model, and his message fundamentally won empowerment. What that means is he showed us what happens when ordinary people who don’t feel powerful, who don’t identify as powerful, who aren’t powerful; if they get together and organize, if they focus their effort on one thing, then incredible change can happen.”
Baghdadchi also highlighted how all the words on the walls around the lounge are in Spanish with an English translation on the bottom, instead of the other way around. Baghdadchi said it helps emphasize the Latino community is the priority within the lounge.
“Spanish comes first,” Baghdadchi said. “When you see that, you think, ‘Brilliant idea,’ but it’s not an obvious one, and that is an idea that came from La Casa. They said, ‘No, this should be a space on campus where Latino heritage comes first,’ and we made that happen.”
Public Health junior Ronnie Alvarez, lead director of La Casa, reflected on his journey in an interview with The Daily. He said he participated in workshops as a freshman where he felt welcome as a new student on campus and was inspired to become an activist.
“I know, personally reflecting on my experience with this lounge, my freshman year I was part of the ALMA program, which is a welcome program for incoming Latino students, and our final reflection was actually in that lounge,” Alvarez said. “And it was very empowering because it was the end of the program, and that’s where we transition into becoming students at the University. And from there, there was a very empowering speech where they inspired the Latino community to be activists on campus.”
Alvarez said it means a lot to him to see the new renovations and to have a place where the Latino community can come and feel safe. He also noted the University incorporated students’ ideas when designing the renovations.
“I think they’re really nice,” Alvarez said. “Especially seeing how the lounge looked beforehand: the color scheme, the pictures, the figures. It all looks great. My favorite part about it is a lot of the community members in La Casa actually helped, the whole thing was very inclusive in terms of the planning process for designing this.”
He also emphasized the importance of having a physical space for marginalized communities on campus where they feel welcome.
“I think multicultural lounges are one of the most tangible ways to show that certain communities are welcome on campus,” Alvarez said. “So, this is a physical space for you to feel welcome and represented. Also, DEI does a great job of that with these spaces. Even though I think there’s a lot of progress to be made, this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Alvarez concluded by saying he wants his speech and the event to inspire undergraduates to become student activists.
“I hope that the undergraduates are empowered to be activists on campus because student activists made this possible for us,” Alvarez said. “The people before me fought for this space to be created, they fought for this space to be inclusive for our community, so I hope this is more empowering, like, ‘yes, we have this space, but what are the next steps?’”