University community reacts to new Trotter

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 - 6:51pm

A planned relocation of the Trotter Multicultural Center to Central Campus has garnered mixed reactions from the University community ranging from excitement to apprehension. 

Dec. 17, the University’s Board of Regents approved a proposal to relocate the Trotter Multicultural Center, currently located on Washtenaw Avenue, to State Street in an area behind Betsy Barbour and Helen Newberry Residence Halls on Central Campus.

In Winter 2014, the Black Student Union called for the relocation of Trotter as part of the #BBUM movement — a student-driven campaign sharing the experiences of Black students on campus.

After the years of public discourse on the issue, many students lauded the approval, including Rackham student Austin McCoy.  

McCoy, a leader of Ann Arbor to Ferguson, a protest group advocating against police brutality, said he welcomed the accessibility and visibility of the new location. He noted that replacing the current multicultural center with a facility on Central Campus illustrates the importance of issues of inclusion and equity. 

“I think students of color and some various underrepresented backgrounds need to have a space that’s more accessible than on the margins of campus,” McCoy said. “I think Trotter’s current location actually symbolizes how students feel marginalized within the University.”

While McCoy added that he supported the administration’s decision, he emphasized that the driving force behind the change was student activism.

“For the University to follow through on that demand is a welcomed development, but I also think that this is an example of how student activism works,” McCoy said. “If it weren’t for the years of student activists, I don’t think this would’ve happened.”

Echoing McCoy’s sentiment, Elizabeth James, a Department of Afroamerican and African Studies program associate and adviser to the Black Student Union, expressed feelings of relief and joy in response to the approval. She also highlighted the symbolic nature of the relocation, seeing it as representative of the University community’s commitment to diversity.

“By relocating the new Trotter to the heart of Central Campus, we are saying that we want everyone to feel this is an inclusive campus and that this is a University that will provide a welcoming environment for all of our students, regardless of race, creed or color,” James wrote in an e-mail to the Daily.

However, while many community members commend the development, others have hesitated in supporting the relocation.

Rackham student Pete Haviland-Eduah, vice president of Students of Color of Rackham, said though he is in favor of the relocation, he has reservations about how the project will be executed. 

“We’ll also see how the new space works functionally. I would hate to see it be a space that’s not necessarily as functional for what it was meant to serve,” Haviland-Eduah said. “With any type of move, there’s always room for negative impact to happen, and I hope that’s minimized if it exists at all.”

In recent months, other students have voiced concerns over the relocation of Trotter as well. During a September forum at Trotter, Rackham student Asya Harrison, secretary of Students of Color of Rackham, told E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student life, that moving the center to Central Campus would threaten its quiet atmosphere and separation from the stresses of classes and schoolwork.

At the meeting, LSA senior Bree Sullivan expressed unease regarding the move as well, highlighting the history and importance of the current building. She noted that the facility has served as a home for underrepresented minorities, and she worried that the space may not feel as safe on Central Campus.

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

Former BSU Treasurer Robert Greenfield said he hopes the new center will have designated spaces for Black students on campus as well as students of other identities.

“I really hope they don’t minimize the identities of other cultures,” Greenfield said.

He added that he hopes the new multicultural center will be named after someone who is representative of the ongoing campus struggle to improve diversity and inclusion.

“Already on campus, we have a lot of buildings that are named after a lot of people who, although their accomplishments with regards to the University were great, were very racist people,” he said. “I don’t want it to be named after a past president of the University from the late 1800s. I want it to be named after someone that’s representative of this newfound struggle that minority students have on campus.”

Regardless of the mixed feelings surrounding the move, for some, the relocation of Trotter signifies the beginning of a new chapter at the University that will affect future Wolverines. Kinesiology senior Cap Kendall, BSU speaker, said she was pleased with the relocation of Trotter despite the fact that she will not be able to take advantage of the new center herself.

“Though I won’t be here to experience it, I am comforted with the notion that countless numbers of my peers and I have done something that I hope will change the experience of generations to come,” Kendall said.