By Erica Quinones
Director of Intercultural Affairs Carese Bates introduced Washington College to the renovated Intercultural Center through a virtual tour on March 23.
The Center was relocated from Caroline House to the first floor of Minta Martin throughout the summer and fall, following a letter of grievances and demands released by the Black Student Union in March 2020.
The letter charged the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Intercultural Affairs with creating “a central and physical safe space” to meet the needs of marginalized students no matter the time of day.
Students specified some demands for the renovated Center, including more space, a prayer room, meeting space for intercultural student organizations, a larger Black Cultural Center, and workspaces for student leaders.
The new space in Minta Martin responded to those demands by creating a space which is always accessible to students; increasing the Center’s size to 11 rooms; integrating an interfaith room; and establishing office spaces for BSU, Cleopatra’s Sisters, Encouraging Respect of Sexuality, and Supporting All Gender Experiences.
Additionally, the Center includes a lounge space, a central conference room, a computer lab with new Mac desktops and a printer, and gender-neutral bathrooms.
Beyond the aforementioned demands, the Center was shaped by input from students and organizations like the Intercultural Ambassadors; both the former and current Student Government Association Secretaries of Diversity, Felicia Attor ’20 and senior Jada Aristilde; BSU; and Muslim Student Union.
“Having inherited those rooms, I was thinking of good ways to create ideas or create ways we can create more services. So, that’s when I reached out to Cleopatra’s Sisters and BSU and asked if they wanted to have office space,” Bates said. “Because at the time, when I was talking with the BSU [executive] board, they were having meetings in the Center for the Study of Black Culture, and there wasn’t enough space there.”
According to Bates, other ideas for the contents of the Center were drawn from examining the Intercultural and Multicultural Centers at other colleges. This research included the insights of students who attended a conference and generated their own ideas for possible support services within the Center.
When deciding which services to include in the Center, Bates said they centered the expansion around the Center for the Study of Black Culture. From there, they worked to include the same administrative spaces that existed in Caroline, then a central meeting space, and they continued growing from there.
Bates also worked with student organization advisors to determine what the groups wanted in their respective office spaces, which will be decorated by the organizations soon.
While the Center has been renovated over the past months, it will not be open to students for the remainder of the spring semester.
The Center will remain closed until fall 2021 for two primary reasons: the space is unmonitored, which might provoke the spread of COVID on campus, and a gap in funding, according to Bates.
“It’s a good thing that people aren’t down there now, just because it’s not monitored and I just prefer not to even allow that kind of free access quite yet,” Bates said.
The pending funding is to finish installing electronic access points in the Center. These access points would allow students to access the Center but not the Minta Martin residential floors.
While the space is currently closed to students, Bates said she is excited to see students utilize the Center next semester, creating a “home away from home.”
“I want to see it be such an ingrained safe space, that we don’t even use the term ‘safe space,’” Bates said. “When they walk into this space, they’re not thinking about the problems that are currently existing or any other stressors, and they kind of dissipate.”
Featured Photo caption: The Intercultural Center was moved from Caroline House into a larger space in the basement of Minta Martin, following the demands of students for a larger, central safe space. Elm File Photo.