AU has been knocking down walls and building new, open spaces this summer.
As incoming and returning students settle in to campus, they’ll notice things look at bit different in Mary Graydon Center (MGC). That’s because the university has just opened its new Center for Diversity & Inclusion.
The Center, headed by senior director Tiffany Speaks, merges the GLBTA Resource Center, Multicultural Affairs, and the Women’s Resource Center under one umbrella. The new space occupies MGC 201-204 across both sides of the hall where the departments had previously existed on their own.
After seeing some students consistently utilize each department separately, Speaks knew the Center would be a natural next step.
“The students were floating between spaces,” Speaks explains. “Students in 2012 are telling us, ‘Hey, I want to be here and there. I want to be appreciated for my whole being.’”
In recent years, the university wrote this need for a larger, more comprehensive space into its strategic goals, making the Center for Diversity & Inclusion a top priority. Speaks believes this focus emanated from all sides of campus; from students as well as university administration.
“That piece of the conversation occurring with the strategic planning committee was very similar to the conversations I was hearing from the one-on-one [student] advising,” she says. “…as someone who is working with students on the day-to-day, I think it’s a very nice connection between the university’s vision and the student vision.”
The Center for Diversity & Inclusion will offer students everything from advising to collaborative programming that reaches out to other Campus Life departments like Disability Support Services, the Kay Spiritual Life Center, International Student & Scholar Services, and the Wellness Center – a group of departments with already strong events and programming individually.
Even with the changes, director of programming, outreach, and advocacy Sara Bendoraitis assures that students won’t lose the pieces that were essential to each of the three core departments.
“In a lot of ways it’s going to be very different, and in some ways we’re hoping it stays the same,” she says. “The idea of folks being able to keep their safe spaces is very important to us. Students feeling comfortable and safe in those spaces is something we’ll continue to strive for. That won’t change.”
While the Center, at first glance, may seem like downsizing, Bendoraitis assures it’s not. In fact, the changes will result in more resources and more staff members available to support and advise students. A new general program coordinator and coordinator of women’s and gender equity programming will start this fall.
“When we see centers like this happening, it’s often times an attempt to collapse centers and cut resources, and I don’t think it’s done strategically,” she explains. “AU has been proactive in thinking about identity in different ways. Putting [CDI] in the strategic plan puts it out there and gives it prominence. We merged the centers from three into one, we were given more resources, and we were given an additional staff member, which is awesome. It’s going to allow us to do a lot more around campus about multiple and intersecting identities.”
So, as the Center opens its doors for the first time, it will continue to follow the voice that prompted its inception – the student voice.
“We’re really looking for student voice to tell us what’s next,” Speaks says. “We have a really good idea of what we have been providing and how to enhance those pieces, but I’m personally interested in hearing from the students that say, ‘Have you ever thought about X,” and we can jump in there as well.”
The Center for Diversity & Inclusion may have new walls, new spaces, and new faces, but its mission is no different than that of any other program or service at AU; it’s here to create the supportive academic environment that makes American University a great place for wonks of any and all identities.
To learn more, visit The Center for Diversity & Inclusion’s new website here.
Follow the Center on Twitter here.