Giving Diversity Room to Grow on Campus
Cultural Centers Create Learning Spaces for All Students
The Stony Brook campus is a proud, diverse community — the collegiate home for thousands of students to learn and grow together while representing a wide variety of cultures, identities and ethnicities.
To build on this, we emphasize and encourage multiculturalism by creating and maintaining specialized centers on campus for everyone to come together through cultural celebration, and for underrepresented student groups to find support, explore identities and break down social barriers.
“Our cultural centers serve a crucial role in both representing and supporting our multicultural community and the many diverse groups of people on our campus,” said President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “In tandem with our Plan for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, these centers bolster inclusivity and diversity at Stony Brook in a tangible, personal way.”
Some of these locations include the Charles B. Wang Center, which provides opportunities for all to appreciate Asian and Asian-American arts and culture on campus by hosting exhibitions, films, lectures, conferences and performances; the Interfaith Center, which supports Stony Brook’s many religious groups through programs and worship services; and several centers, such as Latin American and Caribbean Studies, India Studies and Italian Studies, that encourage the study and appreciation of specific ethnic groups.
“There must be spaces, places and experiences on campus that help students know and feel that they belong here and are part of the larger community,” said Cheryl Chambers, associate dean and director of multicultural affairs. “That feeling of belongingness is directly connected to every student’s academic and personal success.”
Under supervision of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, two cultural centers in particular — the UNITI Cultural Center and the as-yet-unopened LGBTQ* Center — focus on educating the campus community about issues and challenges many students face, and providing a place for them to feel comfortable and create cultural progress.
Established in 1978 by a council of primarily black and Latino students, faculty and staff, the United Nationalities in Transcending Ideologies (UNITI) Cultural Center specified a place for Stony Brook to accentuate ethnic cultures on campus. Since then, Stony Brook’s diverse student demographics have grown, and the center has evolved accordingly, offering a multipurpose space for students who represent all aspects of human diversity to host cultural programs, and an open lounge to relax, study and share experiences.
“The UNITI Cultural Center is a place where people can be their authentic selves,” said Jarvis Watson, assistant dean for multicultural affairs. “Students’ voices, feelings and lived experiences are affirmed within the space, and that gives students the confidence they need to be comfortable with who they are and succeed.”
One recent example of how students use the center is Barbershop Talk, an event co-hosted by the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) and the Phi Delta Psi Fraternity. While students can get a quick trim, they’re also encouraged to discuss the challenges they face.
“Events like these generate the unfiltered conversations that tend to happen in safer spaces like barber shops,” said Watson. “In such an environment, our students aren’t just talking about issues — they’re creating solutions.”
Following the ongoing success of the UNITI Cultural Center, Stony Brook is preparing to open another center on campus that will give its Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ*) and related student communities the opportunity to tackle similar-yet-different issues in the same type of affirming space.
The LGBTQ* Center, set to open in spring 2018 in the West Side Dining facility, will expand and enhance the work of LGBTQ* Services, which currently provides advocacy and administrative support from within the Office of the Dean of Students.
“Our students requested a physical space where they can explore identities that they’ve possibly been told they can’t be, and connect with people who support them,” said Chris Tanaka, coordinator of LGBTQ* Services. “A safer space like the LGBTQ* Center will be crucial in helping them find their true identity, which is foundational to their success here.”
The LGBTQ* Center will provide an open multipurpose area, workspace for students, areas for private conversations, an all-gender restroom, and a lounge space where students can socialize and relax without fearing judgment.
While Stony Brook’s cultural centers support student diversity from within, they also support one of the University’s major goals: to forge graduates ready to succeed and inspire within a complex, connected world.
“These cultural centers not only affirm and support students within our diverse communities, they enrich the entire campus community by inviting others in,” said Chambers. “Our students can become global citizens by learning about and engaging with people who are not like themselves, and that’s happening here at Stony Brook.”