With couches draped in blue upholstery and windows covered in
pink-adorned drapery, the lounge of the William Monroe Trotter
House appears clean and inviting. As a nod to the house’s
“reason to be”, the walls are festooned with artwork
from various cultures — mostly Native American, African
American and Latino American.

Julie Pannuto
View of the William Trotter House Multicultural Center on Washtenaw Avenue. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)
Julie Pannuto
A hole in the wall of the center while a resident walks down the hall. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)
Julie Pannuto
A pipe receiving maintenance in a bathroom of the center. (MIKE HULSEBUS/Daily)

But signs of dilapidation and physical indications of age appear
throughout the house. Wood floors creak beneath sparsely stained
carpets, while chapped walls surround spartanly furnished rooms.
Few sound barriers exist between floors, so events on one floor
leak noise throughout the house.

The center is in need of renovation, facilities manager Ed
Burnett said. But there are no official plans to renovate the
building.

“If you look at the building, it’s not handicap
accessible. It can barely house three student groups at one
time,” Michigan Student Assembly Vice President Monique Perry
said. “The blue bus doesn’t even come to that
area.”

The condition of the Trotter House has aggravated students to
demand conciliations from the University. An ad hoc group of
students has accused the Division of Student Affairs of negligence
and budgetary misappropriation. To counteract this alledged
neglect, these students are urging the campus community to vote for
the Trotter House proposal this week as part of MSA elections that
would increase student fees by one dollar to fund renovations.

Students from numerous campus organizations, including La Voz
Latina and the South Asian Awareness Network, cite both the
condition of the house and the management of its parent department,
the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, as evidence against the
University’s commitment to diversity.

“The main reason why I’m very concerned is that this
University has put so much effort, time and money into telling the
Supreme Court it’s for diversity,” LSA senior Rahul
Saksena said.

The issues at the Trotter House, including its lack of a formal
director, correlate with administrative problems on campus,
students said. MESA currently lacks a Latino coordinator —
though most ethnic groups have one, including African Americans,
Native Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders.

Native American Coordinator Steven Abbott currently assumes the
duties for the Latino community, since former coordinator Donney
Moroney left her position in August 2003.

But University administrators have repeatedly said budget cuts
are difficult to make and will inevitably affect some University
services.

“Nobody can know what it’s like to sit in this seat
and have to make these tough (budget) decisions. And I don’t
expect people to know. But ultimately I have to take in all the
information and do the best job that I can to protect the
University for the future,” University President Mary Sue
Coleman has said.

And Dean of Students Ed Willis has said while budget cuts are
being made in all areas of the University, they may only be notable
in student services areas.

“It probably feels different to students because the work
that we do is so public. It feels like Student Affairs is being
targeted differently. I think that the budget cuts are across the
campus.”

The University is still reeling from more than $16.4 million in
state budget reductions handed down in December, which exacerbate
the 10 percent cuts from the previous year.

MESA’s mission is to foster community and individual
development among ethnic groups across campus. It tries to improve
the climate for students of color and allow them to “feel as
though they are appreciated and that the diversity they brought in
was valued by the University,” said Moroney, who is now
co-director of counseling and support services at the Medical
School.

As Latino coordinator, Moroney worked with campus organizations
to encourage diversity and help Hispanic students feel comfortable
on campus.

But the size of the University and its focus on research and
academia can sometimes undermine student affairs issues, Moroney
said. Budget cuts have exacerbated this problem, putting the
University and its administrative offices in a tight situation.

“Services that are less prioritized are those that
directly affect students,” she said.

Since Moroney left, MESA Director Patricia Aqui Pacania and
Abbott have assumed the Latino director’s duties, although
Abbott performs most of the duties. Aqui Pacania acknowledges that
their work is very labor intensive and the lack of a coordinator
has in some ways affected their ability to serve the community. But
she added that Abbott has “done good work,” for which
he is receiving an award from the Office of Academic Multicultural
Initiatives. “It’s just helpful to have all the human
resources we need,” she said.

Aqui Pacania has seen consistent declines in her budget during
her tenure, cuts that she attributes to a faltering state economy.
Formal decisions have not been made about this year’s
budget.

The Trotter House is a vehicle for MESA to fulfill its service
to various ethnicities and the University, housing events aimed at
enriching ethnic communities and the rest of campus. Last weekend,
groups from various cultures held events and ceremonies including
dialogues, conferences, dinners and a charity auction. Groups
involved included University Hillel, the Vietnamese Students
Association, the Black Student Union, Dance Marathon and Pi Iota
Chi — a Christian multicultural sorority. House
administrators said the center sees more action during the
week.

But the center’s distant location and subpar condition
have adversely affected some students in these groups. Students
argue that without adequate transportation to its location on
Washtenaw Avenue, the house seems to be distant from Central
Campus. Some say this has negatively affected community outreach.
“There are perceptions that, if they’re not on Csentral
Campus, then they’re not important,” she added.

In her discussions with senior administrators, Perry said the
administration has called plans to relocate the building “not
feasible.” But in conversations with students groups like La
Voz Latina and even the Interfraternity Council, Perry heard great
support for the idea. “All the students that I’ve
talked to, they think the building should to be relocated,”
she said.

In comparison to other universities, the multicultural center
fails to pass the bar, students and administrators say. Abbott
mentioned the Ohio State and Indiana universities, which have
recently remodeled their centers.

“We’re way behind the ball,” Abbott said.
“I don’t think there’s any question that ours is
not what it could be and not what it should be.”

But not every student believes that the house is in dire
condition. Rackham student Justin Parr, a second year student in
the School of Information, said the house needs “general
repairs” but “nothing significant.” Parr, who is
a resident coordinator at the house and lives in the building, said
any damages are part of the day-to-day wear and tear.

Pointing to the small hole in the wall outside his room, Parr
identified examples of this wear and tear. Around the corner in his
kitchen, wiring protruded from the walls.

Abbott, whose job is to meet student needs as well as possible,
has seen marginal levels of responsiveness from the administration
in addressing the needs of the Trotter House and MESA. The office
has a high turnover rate, and positions can be slow to fill. Abbot
said his position working with the Native American community was
vacant for a year and half before he came.

But as for the Trotter House, he praised University President
Mary Sue Coleman for her financial commitment to the multicultural
center.

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