Multi-cultural center celebrates anniversary

Fragmentation, alienation, activism, community. Williams students encounter and engage these issues every day. The Multicultural Center (MCC) provides a supportive space for students to discuss and organize to improve campus atmosphere and policies. This weekend, about 60 alumni gathered with students and faculty to discuss their experiences of Williams, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Multicultural Center (MCC).

The MCC opened in the Fall of 1989, following discussion and a student sit-in in Spring 1988, and a proposal in March 1989. “Students needed a multicultural place, a more diverse place to be, but not to segregate from campus,” said MCC Program Assistant, Marcela Peacock.

“The MCC was born, we might say, out of the pains of transformation, and it has survived, and now thrived, thanks to the commitment and energy of the will of many Williams people who know it had to succeed,” commented Dean of the College, Peter Murphy.

“Assessing the First Moment” of the MCC, the weekend featured student performances and student-moderated “fish bowl” and affinity group discussions between alumni, students, and faculty. Alex Willingham, the Director of the MCC and the first faculty member to hold the position, hoped that the weekend facilitated “a lot of soft but focused reflection on past and present persons involved with the center.” He asked, “Are we true to the original goals and to the spirit and commitment of those who brought the Center into being?”

The fractured campus and feelings of division within multi-layered identities came up in several discussions. The MCC provides a haven for students who feel marginalized and unheard. “[The MCC] gave people a sense of stability, a place to go, to think, to work, to connect,” said Mahmood Dualeh ’95.

The necessity of a safe place troubled Marisa Castuera ’96. “The fact that [students] need safety here is a comment on what still needs to be done. The MCC is making sure that not all the burden falls on students.”

The MCC has acted as more than a safe place for Williams students over the past ten years. During fish bowl discussions and student-led affinity groups, students and alumni shared how the MCC has shaped the campus and the issues it faces.

The MCC, and the events this weekend, provide continuity in addressing problems on campus. By talking with alumni, students “find out that they are dealing with the same issues they were dealing with five years ago,” said Peacock. Anita Doddi ’98, Assistant to the Director of the MCC, said one of the goals of the weekend was “to establish some sense of continuity. Students are only here for four years. You watch students reinvent the wheel so many times. Alumni can be great resources.”

The MCC also serves as a resource and venue for student groups, especially the Minority Coalition (MinCo). “The MCC and MinCo are not the same entity although very supportive of one another,” Doddi said.

The burden placed on minority students to constantly explain themselves frequently entered discussions. An affinity group led by Ami Parekh ’01 asked “Who’s Job is it to Integrate: the Minority’s or the Majority’s?” The burden of education is heavy, and when a minority group is small, individuals often feel that associations with their entire race, gender, sexuality, class, or culture rest entirely on their shoulders. “MinCo groups have a heavy burden,” Doddi said. “We [the MCC] help to alleviate that.”

Doddi noted, “In order to change things for minority students, the majority opinion has to change.”

Reaching the ears of the majority can be difficult. Discussion often focused on ways of attracting the attention of people who are not already personally invested in an issue. “The students who were there got a lot out of it,” Doddi said of the weekend. Students and alumni agreed that campus events often “preach to the choir” because other students do not attend.

Efforts at education can be difficult, and sometimes painful. “In some ways, this weekend is a celebration of minority events. It’s also a really thought-provoking event, which makes it powerful and empowering, but very difficult,” Doddi said.

“Many of the students the MCC serves are the ones who talk about these issues—race, class, gender, and sexuality,” said Maria Agosto ’95. “The students who want to bring social justice to this campus and beyond need the MCC.”

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