After a slew of structural changes, the Multicultural Center (MCC) has seized the opportunity to take the College’s multicultural activities in a more academic and collaborative di- rection. The MCC has added an as- sistant directorship for transformative education and leadership and is now planning to change its name to more accurately reflect the MCC’s scope and role in the College community.
Taj Smith assumed the role of assistant director for transformative education and leadership on July 1, while former queer life coordina- torJustinAdkinsisnowtheassis- tant director for gender, sexuality and activism; Adkins’s role entails responsibility for the one-year-old Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, which he is planning to publicize more widely this year.
MCC Director Lili Rodriguez ’91 explained that inclusivity for all students has been a major thrust be- hind the changes at Jenness House. “We need to be a resource for all of campus or else we are failing at our jobs,” Rodriguez said. “Building an inclusive community requires com- mitment from most, if not all, mem-
bers of the community. And I think that’s a paradigm shift for this type of work.”
Smith explained that one of his and the MCC’s major goals is to increase the activism of not only students in the Minority Coalition (MinCo) groups but also the campus population in general. “We don’t get the skills or practices before college that allow us to talk about our differ- ences,” Smith said.
Smith is also planning to launch additional programming to edu- cate people on campus. He cited a monthly film series organized around a set of themes as an example. Smith will also teach a Winter Study course titled “Understanding Similarities, Bridging Differences.”
Dean Bolton further articulated what Smith’s position will mean. “Taj Smith is going to take the MCC in a great new direction. We are really focusing on making each class a net of people that genuinely know each other well,” Bolton said.
Zach Evans ’12, the community and diversity representative for Col lege Council, shared his perspective on the role Smith will play: “I think that he’ll bring a lot of energy and also familiarity with intergroup dialogue that this campus is definitely in need of.”
Adkins spoke to the MCC’s hopes of expanding the campus’s definition of activism in conjunction with the center’s shift towards an academic focus. “You don’t have to dismiss your academics to be an activist,” Adkins said. “You can be an academic and an activist. That doesn’t mean protesting and squatting and all these other radical things. It could just mean that if something is said in one of your classes that you don’t agree with, speaking up.”
Adkins added that he would like to encourage more students to undertake theses in women’s, gender and sexuality studies and also other departments because theses can be such activist work.
The other avenue for academic focus taken by the MCC is the Center for the Study of Critical Difference. Along with Professor of German Gail Newman, Rodriguez runs the center as the MCC’s official academic wing.
A point-person system will remain in place for the MCC. The system will allow Smith to oversee the Black Student Union, Muslim Student Union and Williams College Jewish Association. Adkins will serve as the point-person for the Queer Student Union, the Women’s Center, the Women of Color Resource Center, Women of Color Coalition and the Rape and Sexual Assault Network.
The MCC has been considering a name change for the last four years and is aiming to finalize a name in the spring after soliciting more input from the community.
Adkins articulated how the MCC is looking for a less outdated term than “multicultural” to describe its purview. He explained that although “multicultural” technically covers gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and all the other facets of individuals its staff and students explore, society tends to define “multicultural” less broadly.
According to Rodriguez, the “Center for Social Change” is one of the possibilities that the MCC staff have put on the table. The new name will come on the heels of a new mission statement and change in branding. The MCC will unroll its new mission and design when its revamped website is finalized in October.
The restructuring will also affect MinCo to the extent that the MCC is planning more collaboration between these student groups. For instance, the five MinCo groups under Adkins’s purview are meeting today to discuss how to pool resources as they plan events for this year. To facilitate student activism and discussion, Hardy House and Rice House, which traditionally host events for MinCo groups, underwent renovations and reorganization of their meeting and storage spaces this summer. Additionally, Program Coordinator Marcela Peacock now serves as a parental liaison and has worked closely with parents of first-generation students so far.
The restructuring still leaves the MCC in charge of all culturally related groups and activities on campus. “Most schools divide all those identities into different centers,” she said. “We’ve got the whole umbrella, which is really the true experience of an individual.”