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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Campus reacts to Ethnic Student Center approval

Framed posters from past events hang on the walls of the old ESC. Students have expressed the need for a new facility stating that the current location isn’t large enough. // Photo by October Yates
Framed posters from past events hang on the walls of the old ESC. Students have expressed the need for a new facility stating that the current location isn’t large enough. // Photo by October Yates

Western’s Board of Trustees approved an expansion of the Ethnic Student Center on June 10, marking the end of the student-led campaign to raise awareness of the small size and location of the current center.

The project will primarily be covered by a $30-per-quarter fee for students taking over six credits. The construction is estimated to cost roughly $15 million and is set to start in 2017.

Sophomore Star Summer, a chemistry major, said the decision falls in line with what students want.
“The Board of Trustees is there to make decisions in the best interest of students and this is definitely a much needed move in a better direction for everyone,” Summer said.

During the summer of 2015, it was suggested the center be moved to the fifth floor of the Viking Union. By November 2015, the focus shifted to moving the center into the bookstore. The petition to move into the bookstore was led by Abby Ramos, who was the AS Vice President for Diversity at that time. The idea was the bookstore didn’t need the entire space it occupied. Western concluded the bookstore did in fact need the entire space, the discussion shifted to building a new space entirely.

“[The center] provides a space in which all students can learn more about diversity issues. It’s really a whole campus, but it also provides very specific place and identity for the ESC.”

Eileen Coughlin

Reneé Collins, PhD. and associate dean of students, said she also supports the decision.

“The creation of a Multicultural Center and the expansion of the Ethnic Student Center will position Western to better serve the campus community and the state of Washington,” Collins said.  “It demonstrates our commitment as a university to appreciate multiculturalism and acknowledges that we live in a global society that connects us all.”

On February 1, 2016, Ramos led a petition with about 200 signatures which detailed the reasons why a new multicultural center was needed, including the issues with lack of space. The petition was sent to administrators along with a photo of crowded space they currently occupy.

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.

Ramos argued a school such as Western, which strives for diversity, should have a center large enough to support such diversity. Although the Ethnic Student Center does exist to support students of color, its current capacity can only accommodate 52 people at once.

The petition detailed a lack of other resources, like the amount of employees and computers.  The Ethnic Student Center had two full-time employees, five student employees, no library, five computers and a shared part-time academic advisor, according to the letter.

“We do not have the needed resources to keep us on the campus of a predominantly white institution,” the petition stated.

In late February, students and administrators held a meeting to work on a mutual solution. The meeting ended with a group of administrators pledging to continue working on the issue.

“[The center] provides a space in which all students can learn more about diversity issues,” said Eileen Coughlin, vice president for enrollment and student services. “It’s really a whole campus, but it also provides very specific place and identity for the ESC.”

Students voted on the expansion in the Associated Students’ Election, held during the week of April 25. The majority of students voted to support the expansion as well as the $30 fee making it possible.

The final decision was made on June 10 by the Board of Trustees, victoriously ending the student campaign and leaving the school with a definite plan for expanding the center. Although architectural plans are still in the beginning stage, a few concepts have been discussed, like putting the center above the bookstore and multipurpose rooms, possibly connected by a skybridge.

“The university strongly supports expansion of the Ethnic Student Center and looks forward to continued collaborative discussion and planning for this very important project,” Western’s Communications Director Paul Cocke said.

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