Construction on the new multicultural center is officially underway after MSU hosted a ground-breaking ceremony on April 21. The $38 million project will be the first free-standing multicultural center on campus after decades of student advocacy.
Interim president Teresa Woodruff said the center will be a space for people to have critical conversations, be themselves, have fun and learn. She said the center will be a physical symbol of the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Nourishing this community … with knowledge and understanding is the very essence of Michigan State University's mission,” Woodruff said. “Our embrace of diversity is a crucial element that informs our pursuit of that mission. With this building … the university's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion now begins to take physical substance as an enduring, visible symbol.”
Woodruff said the center was intentionally designed to foster this mission. It will have common areas, an amphitheater, outdoor space and room for events and collaboration.
“This center will be a living, breathing thing,” Woodruff said. “It will be animated by the people who work and study here, and it will grow with the cycles of people who've come and are part of Michigan State. Its meaning and influence will be defined by what goes on inside and around and beyond as it because it becomes one of our spirals of excellence with a beacon to the world shining a light saying what we do here is excellent and shining a light of access to those who want to be part of our education and our research missions.”
The ceremony marked a crucial moment in the decades-long process to create a multicultural center. Miracle Chatman, an alumnus who spent years advocating for the center, said the push began during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. For decades, students protested for increased and improved representation on MSU’s campus.
“What hadn't yet been addressed, however, was the continued demand for space — a space dedicated to diversity for historically marginalized groups to call their own and to find a sense of community that will inspire them to succeed at MSU,” Chatman said.
The Council of Racial and Ethnic Students, or CORES, first proposed the center in 1995. Four years later, the first multicultural center opened in the basement of the Union. However, CORES and the Black Students Alliance continued to advocate for a free-standing building. In 2013, the center was moved to the second floor of the Union.
The effort was reinvigorated in 2019 when then-student and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sarah McConville started an online petition. After that, students from several university groups put pressure on administration through protests and a series of negotiations. Former president Samuel Stanley Jr. appointed a steering committee, and two years later, the board approved planning for the project to begin.
The final step occurred in February when the Board of Trustees approved the construction and budget for the 34,000-square-foot building.
“This new space was made possible by the students through their perseverance, dedication and continued activism and advocacy of a free standing multicultural center,” McConville said. “This building wouldn't have become a reality if students had given up on this dream. Decades of protests, rallies, sit-ins, meetings and planning have led to the creation of something tangible.”
Trustee Rema Vassar also spoke at the ceremony to express her support of the project. She said the center would be a place for communities to grow together.
“Diversity is not hard,” Vassar said. “Getting people in the same room is not difficult. Getting them to be in the same room and love and respect and accept one another, that’s the hard work. That's the work of inclusion, and that's the work of justice. You need spaces like this multicultural cultural center where people can convene and decide together to respect one another, not tolerate, but accept one another, to rejoice each other, to celebrate one another and to continue to fight for more justice.”
The center will be located at the intersection of Shaw and Farm Lane. Interim provost Thomas Jeitschko said that this location was chosen specifically because it is the center of campus, where he said the multicultural center belongs.
Senior Vice President for Student Life and Engagement Vennie Gore said a key aspect of planning for the project was the inclusion of student voices. There are 22 student representatives involved in the project, five of whom spoke at the ceremony. There were dozens of other students, alumni, faculty, administrators and staff at the ceremony who were recognized for their efforts throughout the years.
During his speech, professor Lee June commended students for their continuous work, which he has supported throughout the decades he’s spent at MSU. He said the process reminded him of a famous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who he heard speak in 1965: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Though the fight for the creation of the multicultural center is over, McConville said future students will continue to advocate for themselves with the same pride.
“What started with the voices of students decades ago led to the creation of a new structure that will serve the student body for decades to come,” McConville said. “Countless Spartans … have remained steadfast in supporting the realization of a free-standing multicultural building. To the students, we thank you for never giving up and never settling for less. Thank you for raising your voices and never staying silent. You are seen and you are heard.”