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Thursday, December 13, 2018

College's multicultural room ripped for being open to all students rather than just to students of color

The space at American University is called Hub for Organizing Multiculturalism and Equity — or HOME.
The idea behind it was to give students of different identities a place where they "can just come and be," DeFanta Aw, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, told the Eagle.
But the space at the private college's Washington, D.C., campus apparently doesn't feel like home to everybody.

'No spaces where students of color felt safe'

Some students complained to the Eagle that the multicultural room called HOME has been marketed to students of all backgrounds rather than to students of color.
"HOME doesn't provide people with a sense of security, with a sense of belonging, when everyone from all types of affinity groups can be there," student Othniel Malcolm Andrew Harris, who's helped organize protests at AU, told the campus paper.
More from the Eagle:
HOME was created in reaction to racist incidents over the past two years and a reported lack of a sense of belonging on campus, predominantly among students of color. Only 34 percent of African-American students reported that they felt a sense of belonging at AU in a 2017 survey.

Prior to the opening of HOME, there was not a space for students of color to build community, said Ayana Wilson, AU's student activities director.
"There were no spaces where students of color felt safe," Wilson added to the paper.
Any student can request access to HOME by applying on the Student Activities' website and agreeing to the "mission and goal of continuing to foster a sense of community and belonging for our communities of color and allies," the Eagle said.
But some students told the Eagle that when HOME is open to all students, it's purpose is lost.
"I understand why they would've opened it to everyone because exclusivity isn't something that's really garnered on campus," Sam Liang — a student and finance co-director for the Asian American Student Union — told the paper. "But it makes it feel like the point of it isn't there anymore."
Not all students agree, however.

'Some of my fondest memories'

Danielle Vinales told the Eagle she often brings underclassmen to HOME to "study and chill" and spends a lot of her free time there: "Communities [have] to learn how to work together and how to hang out together, and HOME was that."
AU graduate student and former student government comptroller Christine Machovec added to the paper that she often used HOME to hang out with friends, do homework, or have movie nights while an undergraduate student last year: "Some of my fondest memories of AU were made during my senior year, and many of those memories were made in HOME."

Widespread perception

The Eagle said that following racist incidents and a hate crime targeting black students in 2017, many AU black students pressed the college to create a black house or black space on campus.
"What we needed was a large community space that the entire black community could get together and support one another," Ma'at Sargeant, a senior and student protest organizer, told the paper.
The Eagle said there was widespread perception among black students that HOME was pushed as the answer to those concerns.
"I understand that they weren't trying to make it a quick fix or a Band-Aid, but that's what it looked like to everyone," student Danielle Germain told the paper.

Is identity more important than diversity?

More from the Eagle:
The University used to have "a plethora of identity-based offices" before consolidating these offices into the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Elmore said. CDI was established in 2012 as part of the 2008 strategic plan, and Elmore said it reflected a national trend to organize diversity under a single umbrella.

But some students said that they seek a space where they can be with people of their same identity. Harris said he'd like to see a black space that puts on events about the history of black students at American University
"It's very hopeful for people in administration to want for spaces to be inclusive, but I don't think at this time in American University's history," Harris told the paper. "I don't think that's happening right now."

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