Plans for a free-standing multicultural building are underway as part of the 10-point plan for diversity, equity and inclusion presented to Michigan State President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. last semester.
The main purpose of the multicultural building is to create a sense of belonging among students and faculty from all backgrounds, said Paulette Granberry Russell, senior advisor to the president for diversity and director of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. Russell is also chairperson of the multicultural center initiative.
Russell, a former MSU Title IX coordinator, is also a key witness in the trial of ex-MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, who is charged with lying to police about knowledge of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse.
“If you think back, in terms of the demands from students, it has much to do with creating a sense of support and a sense of belonging in an institution that is a predominantly white institution,” Russell said. “In terms of creating a sense of community for individuals based on a range of social identities, including race and gender.”
Mathematics senior Miracle Chatman, who is one of the student representatives on the multicultural center feasibility study committee, said MSU’s recent history of racist displays is one reason why a multicultural building is needed.
“I don’t think we only need a building,” Chatman said. “It’s the programming that goes into the building that’s really going to shift the campus climate. ... There have been hundreds of racist incidents that have happened on campus for the past however many years and we really need to do something that’ll be pivotal towards the change on campus.”
Chatman said she believes the building could possibly address poor retention rates and graduation rates of marginalized students.
“This building will convey a sense of belonging,” Chatman said. “It’ll create a place for people who are marginalized or people from minority communities can come and gather and feel like they belong.”
Currently, the planning committee is working on finding entities to conduct a feasibility study to determine where a multicultural building could be housed at MSU. The planning committee will interview those entities and choose one to complete the study.
The next steps include deciding what programming will be available at the multicultural center as well as determining what sites are available and whether the multicultural building will be a stand-alone building or an addition to an existing building, Russell said.
Chatman said the feasibility study is expected to be completed by October.
Some students are pushing for a stand-alone building in the central part of campus.
“We want something that can be accessible, something that each student can get to,” Chatman said. “We want something that’s on a couple bus routes. We want something central.”
Russell said previous multicultural centers have been inadequate in meeting the needs of minority students.
“I think it goes back to the issues that the students themselves have articulated in support of the center, which includes ... space for hosting programming, activities,” Russell said. “It could include courses, it could include social gathering space, it could be academic space that will support — at least from the perspective of students of color — what’s essential for them to be successful at Michigan State University.”
The multicultural building will benefit all students, regardless of background, because it’ll be a place that teaches students about other cultures, Chatman said.
“I think that the lack of education on this campus ... that’s a big issue,” Chatman said. “That results in a lot of these racially-biased incidents. This building will definitely help every single student on campus if you need to come and learn. Even for me, as a minority student, I could go to this building and learn about other communities, not just my own.”
Russell said this building finally has the support needed to go from conversation to an actual project.
“To the extent that you have all of these various interests, as well as faculty and staff and others across the campus community have acknowledged that having a space such as this can benefit the campus overall,” Russell said. “I think at this point of our evolution at Michigan State, we’re not the first campus to ever entertain a center or a building that is dedicated to supporting diversity at MSU.”