Multicultural Resource Center Redefines Itself
Issue   |   Wed, 09/25/2013 - 01:15

Now entering its fifth year, the Multiculturl Resource Center (MRC) is, to use Interim Director Mariana Cruz’s words, “rebranding” itself. Last academic year, a number of students and administrators pushed for the MRC’s location to be changed to the first floor of Keefe Campus Center. Considering its small funding and lack of widespread events, some questioned whether the MRC was ready to be placed in such a prominent public space. But, supporters believe it’s because of these reasons (and not in spite of them) that the MRC deserves the spot it now occupies.

“Two years ago, the MRC’s budget was $4,000. Last year, its budget was $6,000. On top of that, it didn’t have a full-time director. The MRC’s new location has helped changed all of that,” said Adrianna Turner ‘14, one of the student leaders who spearheaded the movement for the MRC’s relocation.

Indeed, for the first time in its history, the MRC has a full-time director and part-time coordinator. Brought on as a summer consultant, Cruz helped shape the proposal for the agenda the MRC will potentially uphold in the coming years. Cruz was supposed to return to Cornell Univ. after the summer’s end, where she worked as a coordinator for intergroup dialogue. But, plans changed.

“I wanted to see the ideas I pushed for brought into fruition. With that, I resigned from my position at Cornell and came here,” Cruz said.

Having grown up in Amherst, Cruz saw the evolution of multiculturalism in the Pioneer Valley.

“My father was a social activist in Holyoke. He pushed for the rights of Puerto Rican immigrants in housing and education. I began living here in 1979. The makeup of the population was just starting to change. Interaction among different groups of people has always been a part of my life,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s position is temporary.

The new Provost’s Office, which now oversees the MRC, among other campus entities, will potentially embark on a national search for a permanent director.

“I was one of the students on the hiring committee for a new MRC director. We really enjoyed working with Mariana and so were really glad she decided to stay on board,” said Nedia Morsy ’14.

The MRC’s tentative situation made it difficult to find a permanent director. As of the writing of this article, the MRC has no concretely spelled out budget. In fact, a definitive budget is supposed to be announced within the end of this week. The interactions between the MRC and the Provost’s Office are still being navigated, as this is the first time the College has had a Provost.

“We’re learning from each other. There’s new leadership in the Provost’s Office and in the Dean of Student’s Office. There’s new leadership in the MRC. We’re coming together to really make the MRC the best it could be,” Cruz said.
In the case of a national search, Cruz hopes to insert herself into the applicant pool.

“I love the Amherst community and wouldn’t mind staying here permanently, if the situation arises,” she said.
Although sparsely furnished (the new furniture is expected within the week), the MRC has hosted multiple events since the beginning of the school year. Ongoing events include Dialogues, Grab-n-Go Conversations and Café con Leche sessions. The Dialogue events occur every Monday night from 7 to 9 p.m. Every month there is a relevant theme. September’s theme is race, while October’s is class. November’s theme has yet to be confirmed, although intragroup group interaction is a possibility. The Grab-n-Go conversations are similar; their topics span from Hispanic identity to gender in popular media. The Café con Leche sessions, however, hit on a different form of campus interaction: the relationship between higher-end administrators and the student body.

“When I was talking to students during the summer, there was a consensus on a lack of comfortable interaction between the administrator and the student. In Latin American culture, it’s customary to have café con leche [in English: coffee with milk] in the afternoon to relax and talk. I thought that would be a great custom to apply to student-administrator interaction,” Cruz said.

Café con Leche talks happen every Friday at 2 p.m. Students are given a chance to interact with a chosen administrator in an informal setting. Additional MRC events have encompassed the film screening of Spike Lee’s “Four Little Girls,” a Hispanic Heritage Month Kick-Off dinner and a collaborative dialogue session on sexuality with the QRC.

The attendance for these events have been promising, according to Coordinator Nick Cream.

“I’ve been very excited with the turn-out. People are coming and they’re bringing their friends. Our aim is to foster communal learning beyond the classroom. The more people that benefit, the better,” Cream said.

According to its proposed mission statement, the MRC aims to maintain and develop “cultural celebrations, advising and mentorship opportunities, leadership advances, community interactions, reading groups, film series and speaker series.” It associates itself with “intersectionality, feminist consciousness, multiculturalism, critical race theory, cultural identity development, public pedagogy and cultural pluralism.” The center will potentially be required to submit an annual report to ensure transparency.

Although the College has prided itself in pioneering collegiate diversity, it has failed to maintain comfortable diversity beyond the admissions process. While peer institutions have had flourishing MRCs for many years, Amherst is only now turning the tide.

“During the summer, we spoke with similar institutions about the successes and failures of their multicultural centers. We gained a lot of insight on how to develop the MRC’s agenda,” Morsy said.

These institutions included Brown Univ., Tufts Univ., Bowdoin College, Vassar College and Williams College. The multicultural centers of these institutions had budgets nearing the tens of thousands and, in Williams’s case, $108,000. In addition to monetary support, the successes of these centers have incorporated full-time staff.

Drawing from these examples, Amherst College’s MRC has finally begun to embark on the right track.

“What’s next for the MRC? I think it’s up to us to decide. By us, I mean the MRC staff, students, and administration. We need to have that conversation together. The MRC is the place for these different stakeholders to come together. If there are people out there with ideas for the MRC, they should come here. What’s next is a collective conversation about the role of the MRC in the college community,” Cruz said.