New Multi-cultural Center open to all

The recently printed implication in a student publication that the new Multicultural Center operates solely for people of color is denied emphatically by people involved in the center’s operation.

Jon Joiner, new director of the center on the second floor of Smith Memorial Center, emphasized that the center is open to all.

Jesse Shapiro, ASPSU multicultural director, said he views the center as a special resource for people of color but said he never implied that it functioned solely for people of color. Both are members of the center’s advisory board.

Joiner, who took the director’s job in mid-January, said, “We would like the center to be known as the fulcrum for social, academic, intellectual and cultural activities in the PSU community and beyond. That includes users of all nationalities, races, creeds and origins.”

The misunderstanding arose from an article with the byline of Anna-Karin Smith in the April issue of The Portland Spectator. The article appeared under the headline “Multi-Cultural? Center.” Karin-Smith, at one time a Vanguard writer, interviewed Shapiro for the Vanguard last fall. She wrote in the Spectator article that she asked Shapiro, “If there would be anything new for me in this new and changing center …” She continued, “Shapiro paused, and then told me that the center was basically a place solely for ‘people of color.'”

When she reported this comment to her Vanguard news editor, Karin-Smith recounted, the editor said, “Well, there’s your article.” However, in her Vanguard article, published Oct. 18, 2001, Karin-Smith made no mention of the alleged comment by Shapiro. It was in the April issue of The Spectator that Karin-Smith revived the incident.

Shapiro this week said, “This interview was done fall term. When I agreed to give this interview, I agreed to give it to the Vanguard. I never agreed to give any quotes to the Spectator. I never agreed to meet with anybody from the Spectator.” Shapiro called Karin-Smith’s use of a Vanguard interview for the Spectator article “journalistically unethical.”

In that October interview, Shapiro said, “I did specifically say to her that I felt what the Multicultural Center should be targeted at doing is being a service center for students of color on the campus. I never said solely. What I said was it should be, in essence, for students of color.”

Students of color, he said this week, “would constitute a group of students at this school who are an ethnic minority and are really non-traditionally students here because of their race or ethnic background.”

He said this group, “has a history of racial oppression in this country.” He thought it is “really, really dangerous to expand the definition of a student of color to the degree we’re not identifying the very specific needs of students of color on this campus.”

Shapiro believes the Multicultural Center should address such issues as “why do we have such a low retention rate for students of color at this school? It should look at better retaining them and address the special needs of these students.”

He advocates that the center should realize there is a specific set of problems and issues that affect communities of color and its target should be specifically to address those problems.

He conceded that his view was perhaps more focused in this respect than Joiner’s but said, “I think it’s okay to have philosophical differences about what the center is about.” As himself a student of color, Shapiro strongly identified personally a need for a service center with this emphasis.

“This is not to say that the doors will be closed to anybody, or anything like that, on the basis of race. However, I think when we’re talking about who the service aspect of the center should be looking to target, it is the student of color and it is promoting multicultural education.”

Shapiro said this viewpoint is not an official ASPSU policy, but is his own personal view.

Joiner could not comment on the Spectator article, saying he was not familiar with the article or the reference to Shapiro.

“But if you were asking me is the Multicultural Center a place for people of color only, I would say, heck no, it isn’t.”

He continued, “Nobody has told me since I took this job two and a half months ago that it is supposed to be that way, institutionally, privately, socially or relationally and I have never thought of it that way. Neither has the staff, neither has anybody I know.”

He emphasized that part of his job is consistent marketing of use of the center.

“It is available and it is here. It is the one place on campus where they can book activities that may or may not be politically officially correct. They can come and listen to people that they may or may not hear anywhere else. To come and see activities, special programming, they may or may not see anywhere else, whether on campus or in the city. That’s the bastion of free expression in all its aspects.”

As for who may choose to use the center, “We’re inviting every possible group, affiliation, coalition, department or professional organization across campus to look to the Multicultural Center for all their activities, regardless of what they may be, such as meetings, parties, potlucks, lectures, symposia or workshops.”

Joiner said events may be booked either through the center, 503-725-5342, or the Smith Center scheduling office. Events may be booked for weekdays or on weekends. Regular center hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Multicultural Center has survived through a checkered career. Originally it opened on the first floor of Smith Center, in Room 126. It eventually became displaced by the new ASPSU Children’s Center. The MCC then moved to the basement of Smith Center in Room 26. There it fell into a low-profile existence, with sporadic use.

When fall term began it appeared to be in virtual limbo. The 2002 Faculty and Staff Directory listed it as still located at 126 Smith Center. Then it moved to 228 Smith Center and a search was instituted for a permanent director. Joiner, a PSU graduate, was selected after competitive interviews.

The new quarters, formerly occupied by an ARAMARK food service with limited hours, offers a spacious hall with tables and attractive wall decorations. Featured is a colorful multicultural mural wall which graced the original center.

Joiner said the new location will host a ceremony to dedicate the space April 23. He plans a gala grand opening celebration at the beginning of fall term.