President Sabah Randhawa giving a speech at the opening ceremony for the Multicultural Center on Thursday, Oct. 10. // Photo by Claire Ott
By Eva Bryner
The Multicultural Center held its grand opening Thursday, Oct. 10, to celebrate the new space and acknowledge the work done by students and faculty to have it.
The MCC will be the new home of many student resources, like the Ethnic Student Center, and Associated Students Advocacy and Identity Resource Centers which include Disability Outreach Center and Blue Group, a resource for undocumented students.
“As students, our vision for the demand of this new space was for the ESC to be anywhere but the basement,” said Abigail Ramos, Western alumna and former AS vice president for diversity.
Construction of the new center began in February 2018, but the fight for a space for the ESC has spanned decades.
“They [students] vocalized year after year, that if it wasn’t for the ESC, they wouldn’t have graduated and if it wasn’t for the ESC they would have left Western after their first quarter,” said Michelle Vendiola, Western alumna and former Native American Student Union member.
Students, including Ramos, voted in 2016 for the construction of the building and on how to pay for associated costs, according to Western Today.
Construction of the building cost $20 million. Sixty-seven percent of that cost, including maintenance, is being paid for through a $30 quarterly student fee, according to Western Today.
“The disruption, protest and demonstrations that the ESC students displayed forced the planning committee to do better. They did not just move up one floor, but spearheaded to create their own floor,” said Nate Panelo, former ESC coordinator.
But Vendiola said the space the MCC now stands upon has always been occupied.
“The college of ethnic studies was right where you are standing … so even though we have a new space, you’re standing on the ground that was already there, that people had before and struggled to get,” Vendiola said.
Established in 1969, the College of Ethnic Studies was created alongside Huxley College of the Environment and Fairhaven College. Unlike its sister colleges, the university pulled funding for the CES in 1978 and scattered the courses across many disciplines, according to “The College of Ethnic Studies at Western Washington University: A Case Study,” by Maurice L. Brian Jr.
Current students are organizing to re-invigorate the CES at Western through the Students for Ethnic Studies Coalition.
“Ethnic studies is not just one person, it’s the interconnection of all … it’s everyone,” said Martha Jeanice, co-chair of the Students for Ethnic Studies Coalition.
The SESC names one of their goals as creating and maintaining a support system for students and faculty of color, according to their first meeting on Oct. 2.
Out of the 16,121 students enrolled at Western in 2018, 4,195 were students of color, accounting for 26% of the student body, according to fall 2018 enrollment statistics.
“We barely had any people of color on campus, it really felt like that,” Vendiola said, “So whenever we saw any other brown or black people, we were like, ‘Hey, I see you! Where are you going? Let’s go over there to Old Main, I think they have a multicultural center.’”
The list of goals for Western was created after pressure from students during a sit-in at the president’s office in the fall of 2018.
“We must be relentlessly personal in the consequences that words and deeds have on people’s lives. This is a shared work for which we all must take responsibility,” Western President Sabah Randhawa said.
Among the timeline of projects to advance diversity, equity and inclusion is the 0expansion of ethnic studies curriculum, and hiring a director of Multicultural Student Services, according to the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion website. Both goals were set to be accomplished by winter or spring of 2019, but have yet to be implemented.
“If the university does not engage in consistent, active conversations about what comes after this expansion … the multicultural center will just be a space, and history will repeat itself,” Ramos said.
The space the ESC holds in the MCC is approximately four times larger than their previous location on the fourth floor of the Viking Union, according to Western Today.
“I want you to recognize your place and identity in the spaces you occupy, not just in the MCC but all over. Recognize how you can use your privileges to advocate for those who are marginalized,” said Yesugen Battsengel, AS vice president for diversity.
As students, faculty and community members flooded the stairs and filled the space of the MCC, Vindiola tearfully gave her final words of advice.
“For those of you who go up against the system and get knocked down, don’t give up,” Vindiola said. “In the long run, we don’t do what’s necessary for ourselves, we do it for those who come after us.”