UChicago United Protests for Multicultural Centers

Advocates for multicultural centers say the university does not provide adequate spaces for students of color.

By Annabelle Rice

Last Friday, nearly 60 members of UChicago United gathered outside the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) to demand the creation of Black, Latinx, and Asian/Asian-American cultural centers funded and run by the University.  

According to second-year and UChicago United member Michelle Yang, UChicago United timed the demonstration with the culmination of the Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives, which are teams of graduate students, undergraduates, and staff that research and improve upon the on-campus experience of typically marginalized groups such as LGBTQ+ students, first-generation college students, low-income students, and students of color. 

Yang said the demonstration last Friday was addressed to Melissa Gilliam, vice provost for Academic Leadership, Advancement, and Diversity, and Center for Identity + Inclusion (CI+I) staff.  

“We just wanted to show that there is a high demand for cultural centers and long-term solutions that give us permanent physical spaces,” she added. 

Cultural centers have been included on UChicago United’s list of demands since its inception last year.  

In an open letter to campus recently published in The Maroon, first-year Liana Fu and second-year Paola Del Toro advocated on behalf of UChicago United for the implementation of “consistent, reliable communit[ies] that will support us academically, professionally, and emotionally.”  

In their letter, Fu and Del Toro criticized what they consider to be the University’s consistent reluctance to provide funding for what they consider “an intermediary step in providing refuge and support for students of color.”  

“I think it’s important for students of color to have their own spaces on campus, especially in what is a predominantly white institution (PWI),” Yang said. “A cultural center is really important for creating a community that we can feel attached to. It can serve two purposes: one, to create a space of refuge and ownership; and two, it’s good for fostering connections among students of color.”  

Yang said she objects primarily to the physical limitations posed by the space of the CI+I.  

“When you put all these groups under one roof, like they did for the Center for Identity + Inclusion, there’s a sense that if you put all these minority groups together, in trying to be a space for all of us it becomes a space for none of us,” Yang said. “We’ve met with the administration and Melissa Gilliam, and they think that [creating cultural centers] isn’t feasible for whatever reason, but a lot of us in UC United feel differently.” 

Yang added that she is hopeful that the University will cooperate with UChicago United in improving what is, in her opinion, an unsatisfactory campus experience for students of color.  

“We’re looking for structural changes, not things that just involve bringing people together for dialogue,” she said. “The issue with this is the idea that you can solve racism through conversation—racism isn’t just an individual but an ideological issue.” 

UChicago released a statement in response to the demonstration that reiterates its commitment to diversity and inclusion as two of its core values.  

“The members of our University community are dedicated to ensuring that people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences can thrive on campus,” Director of Public Affairs Marielle Sainvilus said in an e-mail on behalf of the University. “While our community has taken important steps to address matters of diversity and inclusion, we know that much more work needs to be done. We will continue to engage with students on issues of importance to them, and we welcome their involvement as we work together on future improvements.” 

Sainvilus also listed identifying faculty diversity liaisons, conducting a national search for the director of the Center for the Study of Race Politics and Culture, and creating the Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellows Program, a new program that provides funding for tenure track faculty hiring, among others, as noteworthy strides the University has made with regards to advancing on-campus diversity.