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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Expansion of VU, student centers to begin

By Katja Tunkkari

Construction will begin on a new Multicultural Center and space for Western’s Ethnic Student Center in February.

In addition, three centers under the Associated Students Resource and Outreach Programs (Womxn’s Identity Resource Center, Queer Resource Center and Disability Outreach Center) will all have a new space inside of the renovated building.

The ESC, a student-run organization home to a number of clubs for students with diverse backgrounds, is undergoing a major expansion into the AS Bookstore and Viking Union Complex.

As of fall 2017, 25.6 percent of Western’s student body was made up of students of color, according to Western’s student demographics, which has led to a call for a more visible, accessible ESC. The project, which is scheduled to be completed by June 2019, will provide a larger home for the organization as well as a new Multicultural Center.

The project was initiated in 2014 when students highlighted a need for an expansion of the ESC. Students and the Office of Enrollment and Student Services drafted early plans for improvement of the ESC.

Graphic renderings of interior and exterior of Multicultural Center renovations. // Photos courtesy of Opsis Architects

Kali Chargualaf, co-chair of the Native American Student Union, expressed concern regarding the current limited space of the ESC.

“The space is so small now for all of the clubs. It’s out of the way, hard to access and hard to find,” she said.

Chargualaf said the  larger space will provide opportunity for more collaboration between the various clubs that function within the ESC and more visibility for the Native American Student Union itself.

“Because there are so many other growing clubs, including us, it gives us a bigger space for us to go there and hang out and bond with each other. We’ll be able to hold our future meetings there as well,” she said.

When Chargualaf arrived at Western, she had no idea the ESC even existed. She said she hopes the relocation and expansion will provide more exposure and awareness regarding the organization and diversity on campus as a whole.

While the AS provided financial backing for the initial stages of expansion, the VU and Enrollment and Student Services committed to a $1.5 million budget in 2015. This budget will allow for a relocation of the ESC into the VU and a renovation of the space in order to provide a larger and more accessible home for the organization. In 2016, 63 percent of students approved a per-quarter fee of $30 per student to fund an enhanced Multicultural Center, expanding the project budget to $20 million, according to the project budget.

The design development phase of the project was completed in October 2017. In February, the major construction phase will begin. Services within the VU will remain open during construction. The bookstore will be temporarily relocated into the VU Multi-Purpose Room and other services such as Vendor’s Row will be relocated within the VU until completion of the project, according to Western’s office of facilities development and capital budget.

A larger ESC will provide increased opportunity for more clubs to utilize the space, representatives from the Black Student Union and the Native American Student Union said.

Malik Ford, president of the Black Student Union, also confirmed the need for the expansion of the ESC. He said its current space, small and tucked away, captures little attention for the organization.

Ford said that the current location of the ESC has resulted in exclusivity. Limited space results in a lack of inclusiveness and collaboration between clubs, as well as a lack of ability for the Black Student Union to take advantage of the space, Ford said. He believes that the expansion will allow for more members of the Black Student Union to utilize the ESC.

Ford said the new space already feels more inclusive as ESC clubs have been able to collaborate on the design. The Black Student Union will be able to add their own touches to the new location, such as art pieces, murals and quotes that will decorate the walls.

Despite the opportunity that the new ESC promises for the future, Ford is cautious with his optimism. He questions whether the ongoing effort to spread awareness of diversity on campus and capture visibility for underrepresented groups will cease with the completion of the project.

“You can build a center and just say, ‘Here’s your center.’ But I feel like underrepresented students aren’t just underrepresented in spaces. We need a lot more than just that as underrepresented students.” Ford said. “It’s nice that we’re getting a new multicultural center, I think that’s good, but representation should come from all aspects, really.”

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