Student leaders at the University of Virginia say the current quantity of minority student “safe spaces” is inadequate, and as such more needs to done more beyond the Multicultural Student Center.
The center, or MLC, is described as a place where you can be “greeted by both familiar faces and make friends with new ones” and where you’ll see students “really talking to each other.” However, it’s limited to a maximum capacity of 49 people and, according to The Cavalier Daily, is “an invisible and non-central space on Grounds.”
Apparently not considering minority UVA students part of “all different students,” Asian Leaders Council Chair Vilas Annavarapu said “Iconically, you think of the Lawn as a space that’s public, well-positioned, supposed to be accessible to all different students — a space where faculty and students interact with one another.
“That’s what U.Va. constantly parades as the idyllic space for its students. The story for minority students and students of color is quite different.”
Annavarapu doesn’t say why it’s different.
Natalie Romero, head of the MSC, said she’s advocated for a Latinx (“lah-TEE-nex”) cultural center, but was “quickly shot down.” She says campus officials told her establishing the center would mean other racial/ethnic groups would have to get one too, and was asked “why were we dividing the students.”
Muslim Student Association President Al Ahmed had similar complaints, noting he has requested more prayer spaces on campus, but has always been stonewalled. “They’ve been saying ‘we’re working on it, we’re considering you guys, we’re brainstorming possible spaces,’” he said.
Organization of Young Filipino Americans President Joseph Malasa went further, saying the matter “transcends physical space” and that the University “must acknowledge and advocate for the needs of minority students.”
“Even multicultural students have a lot to learn,” Malasa said. “I’m still learning every day about how to navigate these large systems — how to get my micro needs into the macro conversation about what the University thinks is important for students.”
Romero and Malasa say the most important aspect of the MSC is that it “offers validation” to minority students as there are no other so-called “safe spaces” for them on campus. For example, they go to the center because campus food offerings “do not meet the cultural diversity of the students.”
Director of Multicultural Student Services Vicki Gist told the Daily that research done by “many higher education scholars” shows it is “beneficial” for minority students on PWIs — predominantly white institutions — to have multiple safe spaces on campus “where they feel validated and can build community.”