Sustaining a focus on social discourse

Last weekend, the Multicultural Center (MCC) changed its name to the Davis Center in recognition of activist alumni W. Allison Davis ’24 and John Davis ’33. The ceremonies marked an important step toward increasing the visibility of the resources already available on campus. In particular, renaming the center after two of the College’s most renowned activists serves to remind the campus of our rich history of activism. Last weekend’s events and the center’s new name should encourage students to tap into the resources of the Davis Center in their own activist pursuits. Additionally, the center’s renaming is more than symbolic and should serve to remind students of the importance and accessibility of activism on campus.

We at the Record applaud last weekend’s role in increasing the visibility of the Davis Center; however, we wish that this celebration had also included a proposal for how to expand the reach of the Davis Center to the whole campus. Overshadowed by the celebration was the Davis Center’s reveal that it would carry the mission of educating students on multiculturalism into the academic sphere. As part of the Davis Center’s initiative to address multiculturalism in academics, two Davis Center staff members, Lili Rodriguez ’01 and Taj Smith, will jointly teach a class called “Cycle of Socialization.” This marks an important expansion from the MCC’s typical programming, which often included bringing in lectures or panels to address issues of diversity. These events were poorly attended, as students are frequently simply too busy to carve time from their days to attend lectures of any sort, not only those hosted by the MCC. By reaching into the academic sphere, the Davis Center hopefully will capitalize on the academic realm of students’ lives, a portion which students prioritize and engage with.

However, this class naturally will have a limited impact on campus, as only 20 students can enroll in the course. While this narrow audience is not ideal and those enrolling in the course may be a self-selecting group, we feel that introducing an element of experiential education into this course and further Davis Center classes could attract a wider audience of students and also serve to engage the campus community further. We see particular potential for beginning to incorporate experiential learning with regard to issues of diversity in Winter Study classes, as there is already a precedent of such courses utilizing more experiential learning methods than typical semester-long classes.

As part of the development of these courses, we also see the potential for the Davis Center to collaborate with the faculty on expanding and re-envisioning the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI). The Davis Center staff consists of individuals who are uniquely qualified to speak to issues of diversity, and we hope that these staff members have already been consulted on the re-examination of the EDI requirement. Such collaboration has the potential to make the EDI requirement more accessible and meaningful, particularly if Davis Center resources, such as those pertaining to experiential learning and community engagement, are utilized in the expansion of the program.

There is certainly potential in expanding the Davis Center’s outreach to academics, but this new mission must not reduce efforts to continue and expand upon the center’s focus on addressing social discourse on diversity. The MCC was frequently criticized for only reaching a limited audience. Part of this stems from the fact that the MCC was formed to reach out to minority groups, automatically limiting its captive audience. However, the problem also stems in part from the fact that students at the College are a particularly privileged subset of the population. It is critical that the Davis Center continues to provide programming and safe spaces for minorities to express themselves, but that it also focus on engaging the broader community. The MCC’s programming often fell short of this goal, and we at the Record believe that it is important to tailor a greater proportion of the Davis Center’s programming to informing students who don’t feel marginalized by society on how they can become active allies when they witness acts of discrimination.

The MCC did a particularly exceptional job of educating students in leadership positions, ranging from Junior Advisors to Baxter Fellows, on issues of bystander intervention and leadership in respect to minority concerns. However, a large portion of campus never receives this training. There is a prime opportunity for the Davis Center to expand on this work. In particular, we think that hosting a workshop during Claiming Williams Day or similarly focused times on campus could be effective. Claiming Williams Day focuses students’ attention on minority issues and on the current state of campus discourse around multiculturalism, and provides an opportune moment for the Davis Center to motivate change.

We are particularly excited about the Davis Center’s renaming celebration and the potential for a re-envisioned multicultural resource on campus. We hope that the Davis Center will seize this momentum to expand and refine its role on campus.