Harper outlines plans for new multicultural center

Wednesday, September 23, 2015 - 9:36pm

University Planner Sue Gott discuss the potential new locations of the Trotter Multicultural Center during a focus group at the current Trotter Multicultural Center location on Wednesday.

University Planner Sue Gott discuss the potential new locations of the Trotter Multicultural Center during a focus group at the current Trotter Multicultural Center location on Wednesday. Buy this photo
Marina Ross/Daily

 

During the height of #BBUM — the student-driven campaign that aimed to draw attention to the experiences and challenges of Black students on campus — the movement’s leadership stressed the importance of relocating the Trotter Multicultural Center closer to campus.

But at a forum on Wednesday, several students were hesitant about moving the facility, even as the University considers options for a new location. E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, joined several University officials at Trotter to solicit input on the process. During the session, Harper emphasized the need to honor the legacy of the original facility, even if the University moves forward with plans to construct a new one.

University officials also discussed a potential the timeline for building a new center and provided their perspective on the decision-making process.

The speakers included University Planner Susan Gott and Diana Adzemovic, senior design project manager for Architecture, Engineering and Construction at the University.

There are currently three locations under consideration for the construction of a new multicultural center: the site of the current Michigan News Service building on Maynard Street, between Betsy Barbour and Helen Newberry Residence Halls on State Street and near the Munger Residences on Thompson Street and Packard Street. Planners are also still considering an alternative plan to renovate the current center on Washtenaw Avenue.

Trotter Director Jackie Simpson said in a poll of 715 students, most respondees said they preferred the State Street location.

Amid talk of relocating, LSA senior Bree Sullivan pointed to the significance of the current building for many students. She said for decades, the building has been a home for minority students on campus — and the space may not feel as safe if located closer to campus.

“This is a lot of history, this building,” she said. “I want it, and I want future generations to have it.”

Harper recalled the tradition and activism from which the Trotter Center was born. According to their website, Trotter opened in 1971 as a space to hold meetings and cultural events for Black students. The desire for the multicultural center grew out of efforts by the Black Action Movement and other prominent civil rights movements in the 1970s.

“We are doing for the next generation what the people you were talking about did for you,” Harper said.

However, Harper also drew upon the difficulties that come with the current Trotter location. The decision to build a new multicultural center closer to campus came from organizers of the 2013 #BBUM movement, who said the site’s location between fraternities and sororities made minority students feel uncomfortable when walking back and forth at night.

“This movement to move as fast as it can has been built on the notion that this place does not meet students’ needs,” Harper said. “We are at some point going to have to say this is what we need.”

Gott listed the criteria that students and administrators worked on last year when looking for sites of a new center. Some of these criteria included making sure the new space is able to accommodate banquet or multi-purpose rooms and is near loading and unloading docks for special events. The checklist also prioritizes a new location near the Diag and other student services — such as transit, food services, study spaces and computer labs.

Gott said the administration has worked to expedite the selection process to fulfill the needs of a new multicultural center on campus as soon as possible.

“What is so unique here is we just spent a lot more time with the students,” Gott said. “We asked over and over again what Trotter should be doing for Michigan.”

Sullivan also suggested building a space solely for Black students, adding that the voices of Black students are sometimes overshadowed. She said though the students at the time of the #BBUM movement liked the idea of moving Trotter closer to Central Campus, students now might not feel the same way.

“I would say we should take into consideration how times change, and how things in world are changing around us,” Sullivan said. “What students might need at the moment could be very different from what they needed two years ago.”

Rackham student Asya Harrison, secretary of Students of Color of Rackham, said while moving to Central Campus would allow for more use of the site, Trotter would lose its current quietness and distance from classes and schoolwork.

“That is one of the downsides, it will get a different kind of use and more use,” Harper said in response.

Social Work student Zachary Pritchett said though he likes the current location of Trotter, moving the building would lead to more visibility on campus and subsequently a larger voice on campus issues. He pointed to the Spectrum Center as an example of a powerful voice because of their location in the Michigan Union.

“For them, position equals power,” Pritchett said.

Gott said no matter the decision on renovating or relocating Trotter, it is important to remember the history of the center and the significance it will have for future generations of students.

“If history is made here, it is made either with the decision to move to one of the three sites or to stay here,” she said. “It will all be meaningful, but you might think about differences in different sites as it might relate to aspirations that you have.”