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Students and staff look forward to the future of a new space and new direction

Students at multicultural center

From The Ichabod - Winter 2021

For multicultural students at Washburn University, when they don’t see a space for themselves, they create it.

Washburn’s campus celebrated the opening of the Multicultural Intersectional Learning Space in September. Located in the basement of the Memorial Union, the learning space is open to all students and will be focused on student support, safety, outreach, intersectional learning and leadership to help improve cultural understanding throughout the campus community.

“This space was created as a part of Washburn University’s commitment to its core value of inclusion and our effort to ensure that all students feel welcomed, included and they know they belong here,” said Danielle Dempsey-Swopes, jd '92, director, Office of University Diversity and Inclusion.

The space reflects the University’s plans to place an emphasis on students who identify as belonging to a historically marginalized population and help them continue through to graduation.

Washburn students made it clear to faculty this space is one of their top priorities.

“This is an imperative first step to students feeling welcomed,” said JuliAnn Mazachek, vice president for academic affairs. “More importantly, it is for students staying in school and for assisting them through to graduation to help them cross that finish line.”

Washburn has seen a steady increase in Black/African American and Hispanic/Latin students. Other colleges and universities across the state have reported similar spaces are necessary to serve the needs of students who identify in minority or historically marginalized groups.

“Nearly 40 percent of our students identify themselves as being from under-represented groups and ethnicities,” Mazachek said. “This number has grown substantially in the last five years.”

The theory of intersectionality recognizes that identity markers like gender, sex, race, sexual orientation, physical appearance, disability and religion do not exist independently of each other. This term is a framework to better understand how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create modes of discrimination and advantage.

Victoria Smith, senior music performance student and president of Washburn Student Government Association, said it’s important students are part of conversations regarding diversity and inclusion.

“We see in our society important conversations get started,” Smith said. “Another big issue will come into play and all the conversations start over.”

Washburn students, administration and faculty had one of those conversations in March 2019 about racial injustice. Many students put their voices forward to make a difference for the students of today and of the future. From this event, Washburn administration heard how important it was to not only create, but to sustain an inclusive place where under-represented students could come together.

“We believe this diversity in our student body is critical as we prepare ourselves, our students and our entire community to address the important race and social justice issues in our society and culture today,” Mazachek said.

Students from Washburn Black Student Union, WSGA, Hispanic American Leadership Organization and Washburn’s chapter of Queers and Allies were among those who advocated for this space. It will serve as a safe place for multicultural leaders and student organizations to plan programs, discuss social justice issues and store items related to their work.

“This is truly a product of student activism and determination,” said Analisa Chavez-Muñoz, president of the Washburn University HALO.

With help from Dempsey-Swopes; Mazachek; Jerry Farley, president of Washburn University; and Eric Grospitch, vice president for student life, the University community was engaged in a broader discussion about the needs of the diverse student populations.

“Eric and Danielle led the effort to ensure this space became a reality for you and for Washburn,” Mazachek said to the audience at the center’s opening. “Their unrelenting commitment, even through the pandemic, has made it possible to open this space.”

Students and staff are willing to continue putting in effort and moving forward in courageous conversation, new ways of thinking and engagement that will ensure this learning space is just the beginning of an ongoing dialogue.

“This is a great first step, but we still have a hundred steps left to take and work to put into it,” Smith said. “This is just a room right now; we have to start recruiting our minority population and start engaging them on campus.”

Chavez-Muñoz is serving as one of the new student coordinators for the space, where Washburn students can have open and honest discussions about intersectional identities and the joys and challenges of their varied experiences.

“This is not the end of the movement on campus, and we will continue to use our voices and make space for ourselves,” Chavez-Muñoz said. “We have a presence on campus, and we have no intention of stepping down.”

The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

View past editions

 

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