On Tuesday, Jan. 30, the grand opening was held for the new Intercultural Center for Student Engagement (ICSE). The opening was held in the SMC atrium during common hour, with a buzzing atmosphere full of students and faculty snacking on light refreshments.
Jasmine Whitlow, who was an integral member of the team that spearheaded this project, got everyone’s attention for President Anderson to start the event. At the beginning of his remarks, he pointed to a sign positioned near the back of the room and read its tagline aloud.
“I think it’s worth going over there and reading that: ‘Who am I? Who are you? And who are we?’ I don’t know how better to frame the Intercultural Center than that.”
The Intercultural Center is the newly-renovated room in the SMC where students are encouraged to meet others, make friends, and to start dialogues that are necessary for them to have. During his remarks at the opening, President Anderson noted that by bringing students from different backgrounds together and being inclusive, it creates a better environment for learning.
“A student body that reflects the diversity of our society is an important feature of each student’s college education and experience,” Anderson said, adding that diversity in education also helps students to compete in the expanding and diverse global marketplace.
The new center is located in SMC 111, and is a cozy room with couches, coffee tables and a TV in the corner. The walls are decorated with pictures of influential and prominent women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Malala Yousafzai and Katherine Johnson near the entrance, and a LGBT pride flag on the far wall. Jasmine Whitlow, the director of the new Intercultural Center, has her office right inside the door to the right.
Whitlow was formally the Assistant Director of the Center for Student Involvement & Leadership, but her title transferred to the Director of ICSE in mid 2017 as the new location was being set up. The center has been in the line of sight for Millersville for over five years, back to when the SMC was being renovated. Judicial Affairs has been using the space since then, but as the ICSE has materialized, it took over the space.
The need for a new space that fosters inclusion and diversity had a few catalysts, says Ms. Whitlow. “We had incidents on campus…students are asking for more accountability [and] more resources,” she said referencing different problematic events on campus. “We had an incident where a student put on blackface, and we had a campus demonstration…[and had] a town hall for that. And that kind of sparked deeper, in-depth conversations with students, faculty and staff about expediting and making it a priority to make a space.”
As director, Whitlow is in charge of helping lead movements and events to help combat these incidents, and to promote inclusivity. “I set the tone and the pace for student experiences when it comes to diversity and inclusion, so I work really closely with all of our multicultural organizations to ensure that they’re on track.”
Some of the events that she helps oversee include Pridefest and the Multicultural Showcase, but also smaller events, like a showing and discussion of the acclaimed film “Get Out” on Tuesday night. Small events like these are meant to not only bring students together to just hang out, but also to help start important discussions.
But along with the center taking an administrative role in events and activities around campus, Whitlow hopes that the physical location of the center can be a resource for students. “There has always been resources for diversity and inclusion on campus…but now there is a physical location for us to say ‘we do have the Intercultural Center where we are fostering dialogue.’”
The ICSE is also partnering with the McNairy Library to help students engage with topics regarding race, ethnicity, and gender. The “resource room” in the center is filled with books, literature and pamphlets to assist in tackling these discussions, and to be an educational resource on the topics. They are creating a “cross catalogue” with books in the resource center and the library where students can check them out at either location.
ICSE doesn’t have any events planned to increase awareness of the center, but Jasmine Whitlow is hopeful that word will spread naturally. The room has a glass door, a cozy atmosphere, and is in a prime location with heavy student foot traffic, and she hopes students will stop in and say hello. “I want individuals to know that everyone is welcome in this space, as long as you come with good intentions…knowing that diversity and inclusion topics can be hard [to talk about].”