University opens new multicultural center, celebrating Chicago’s diversityBy Julia Morse
It was a true celebration at the grand opening of 5710 S. Woodlawn Ave.
Over the rhythm of African, Caribbean and East Indian drummers, students, faculty, administrators and staff sipped sparkling cider and clapped to the beat before President Zimmer delivered opening remarks.
“This is an exciting moment for the University of Chicago,” Zimmer said of the Tuesday, Feb. 26 opening of the building, which is the new home of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, the LGBTQ Programming Office and the Amandla Lounge. “This opening really represents something very important as the University has an ongoing and expanding commitment to diversity in all of its multiple aspects. I hope that this will be a place where we can celebrate our differences and where a community can develop—where one can share both the good and the bad.”
Kenneth Warren, Deputy Provost for Research and Minority Issues, addressed the powerful role students played in the establishment of 5710, which he said was five years in the making.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be here,” Warren said. “The story of 5710 begins and ends with the student effort. I was deeply impressed by the commitment of students to this process. It couldn’t have been done without them.”
Alumna Lizette Durand (S.B.’01, Ph.D.’07), who was dedicated to diversity issues at Chicago during her years as an undergraduate and a graduate student, spoke about the value and importance of 5710 S. Woodlawn Ave. from a student’s perspective.
“We, both students of color and queer or LGBTQ students alike, felt that we needed a space where we could feel at home to express our individuality without feeling out of place in the larger, majority campus. We wanted a space where we could gather and talk about our shared experiences,” she said. “A place where we could draw support from, so we could better contribute both academically and socially to the University community. A place where we could celebrate diversity in all its forms.”
Durand added, “Whether you identify as a student of color or you’re struggling with your sexual identity or, like some of us, you lay in that intersection, I hope this center offers a retreat from daily life and a space where you can feel free to be yourself. And I hope you learn from your predecessors and keep building allies among the different members of the University community, because it is only when we work together that we can accomplish our goals.”
In addition to efforts by students, President Zimmer, the Office of the Provost, members of the College community, the Office of the Vice-President and Dean of Students, Warren applauded the efforts and commitment of Ana Vázquez, Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and Deputy Dean of Students in the University, and William Michel, Assistant Vice-President for Student Life in the University and Associate Dean of the College.
“A very committed group of students, faculty and staff have worked together to strengthen this project over the last five years. This center celebrates our diverse community and will benefit all students at the University of Chicago,” Michel said.
“While we may not be the first university to do this, we like to think we’ve done it the best,” Vázquez said, noting that unlike many other universities, “Our entire project was funded by institutional support. This really symbolizes the University’s strong commitment to diversity.”
Vázquez added that the center would create a space for students of color and LGBTQ students to build community and create a sense of belonging on campus, while spreading awareness about those student groups. It would also make resources and advocacy readily available and provide a space for candid discussions on race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity.
“I have a great sense of pride that the University has made such a significant and symbolic commitment to former, current and future students of color and LGBTQ students,” Vázquez said. “The fact that the staff will be in such close proximity to students means we will have easier access to students, and therefore, allow us to better advocate for and address their needs.”
Before guests at the grand opening began tours of the building, Kimberly Goff-Crews, Vice-President and Dean of Students at the University, asked those in the crowd to raise their glasses for a toast.
“To our past, present and future—in honor of the students, faculty and staff who worked tirelessly to make this happen,” Goff-Crews said.