By Anna Edlund
The expansion of Western’s Multicultural Center can move forward after students voted to support a fee to fund the expansion during Associated Students elections, held during the week of April 25.
The new center would house the Ethnic Student Center as well as multicultural outreach and activities. The current ESC has a maximum capacity of 52 people.
Abby Ramos, AS Vice President of Diversity, worked directly with administration and students to get the referendum concerning the $30 fee on the ballot.
“Western continuously prides itself on saying it’s a diverse campus, it’s inclusive of students of color and it’s here to support them,” Ramos said. “How are you supporting students of color when the only space created for it is 52 students?”
Junior Jackie Fitzpatrick supported the referendum to expand the ESC.
“I think [the ESC] needs more visibility and representation on our campus. They represent a lot of important issues we need to address,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t think you can ever talk about these issues enough.”
The Western Front reached out to students opposed to the ESC expansion, but they refused to comment.
“How are you supporting students of color when the only space created for it is 52 students?”
Abby Ramos, AS Vice President of Diversity
The referendum garnered the support of students with 1162 voting for the fee and 692 against. Ramos explained the need for the fee.
“If students on this campus are passionate about getting a space for themselves, the least we can do is pay in to that,” Ramos said.
According to a fall 2015 statistics report, students from ethnic minority groups accounted for roughly 25 percent, or 3,833 students, of Western’s 15,332 total students.
Eileen Coughlin is the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services and has been involved with the project from its inception.
“It provides a space in which all students can learn more about diversity issues,” Coughlin said. “So, it’s really a whole campus, but it also provides very specific place and identity for the ESC.”
Paul Cocke, director of the Office of University Communication and Marketing at Western, said the university is responding to the needs of students and the state.
“One of those needs is changing demographics, which [the expanded center] is a perfect fit for,” Cocke said.
The entire project is estimated to cost $16-17 million. The student fee would cover $11-12 million, around 60 percent of the total cost. If implemented, the fee will not affect students until fall 2017 at the earliest.
“It provides a space in which all students can learn more about diversity issues.”
Eileen Coughlin, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services
State funding, one-time sources and previously set-aside funds will help make up the remaining cost. The money raised by the student fee would help the university obtain additional funding from other sources because it shows students are on board, thus providing validity to the project, Coughlin said.
“I think there’s every reason to believe that fee will service the entire university and all students, in addition to expanding and providing great space for students of color,” Coughlin said. “It enriches the lives of the entire student body.”
The preliminary idea proposes building additional floors on top of the Viking Union Multi-Purpose Room, above the bookstore or both, according to the ballot referendum. These facilities would be linked by a skybridge or connecting lobbies.
Although the referendum passed, there is no guarantee the fee will be imposed. The Board of Trustees still have to give it final approval in June, and they can choose not to pass it.