Revitalizing the Gender and Diversity Center

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A mecca for student group meetings, the GDC is home to a “holey” couch in disrepair that soon to be replaced.

Positive changes are in store for the Gender and Diversity Center.

Last month, a group of students and professors organized an Independent Study Project (ISP) aimed at reviving the Gender and Diversity Center (GDC).

Associate Professor of Sociology Sarah Hernandez and Professor of Anthropology Uzi Braham sponsored the ISP. The students, first-year and GDC Student Coordinator Emma Cockram, second-years Jules Dipronio and Marisa Facey, and third-year Hilary Ramirez, interviewed faculty and staff about the creation of the GDC, delved into the Catalyst archives to learn about its history, explored diversity centers at comparable schools and researched ways to improve the center. Their final project put forth a vision for a diversity center, a rationale for it, a budget and a timeline.

In the late-90s, the Gender Studies Collective housed their books in a small room in “The Viking,” a motel converted into a New College building behind the campus bookstore. At the same time a group of minority students were looking for a safe and comfortable space to hold meetings and discuss diversity issues on campus. Both groups came together with the intention of finding a space on the student side of campus near the dorms.

“It indeed is really a coming together of two interests that were separately developing at the college and
realizing that coming together made more sense for both of us to achieve our goals,” Hernandez said.
Around the year 2000, the administration granted the students the space for what is now the GDC and soon after a full-time director, Tasha Bradley, was hired.

“It wasn’t just the room but it was having a staff person who could direct it, plan out programming, be a
liaison for students, staff and faculty, to kind of encourage more diversity, more civility on campus,” Baram said. “I regularly teach a course titled Race and Ethnicity in a Global Perspective. I teach it as a course meeting twice a week in a classroom and it was wonderful to have a staff person there who could chat with the students, not about the course, but how the issues from the course were affecting them and so it was a really nice way of bridging the academics with the social aspects of Student Affairs.”

Bradley coordinated with faculty to set up tutorials, held student focus groups, workshops, real life forums, and
guided conversation and discussions of issues that students were dealing with on campus. She incorporated race, class, religion, gender and ability into the GDC mission statement.

“She was trained to guide conversations. Sometimes it was even hard getting access to the space because there were so many activities going on,”Hernandez said.

In 2005 the position of director of the GDC was dissolved.

“When there was a reorganization of Student Aff airs and we lost that directorship it seemed like a real loss,” Baram continued. “We still had the room and there were attempts to keep it moving but one of the things that came up last fall was that even physically it
wasn’t looking attractive anymore.”

Without a full-time coordinator the space has slowly slipped into disrepair. Some feel that it is no longer
being used as originally intended.

“The GDC has turned into a pathway for people to get from their dorms to their food, even though there
are two other entrances,” Ramirez said.

There are double doors next to the GDC behind the Nook and an entrance from the Old Mail Room.
“I understand I used to do that myself until I learned that minority students started this because they
didn’t feel safe and they wanted it to be a safe and inclusive space on campus. At first I was like, no, people should still be allowed to walk through it, but then when you learn the history of what it was supposed to be I’m just like, that’s disrespectful. I don’t like it anymore and I had to retrain myself not to walk through it,” Ramirez continued.

Moving forward, students and staff hope to revitalize the GDC by bringing back more active programming and making the space more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.

“I would like to see the GDC reclaim some of its prominence on campus, not to be seen as a center that’s just for a
certain subset of the population but as a truly inclusive center that brings the entire campus together to address current issues of marginalization and inclusivity,” Student Support Coordinator Maura Scully Murray said.

“There are some serious campus climate issues and I think the GDC can be a part of helping to heal some of the fear and tension and bring people together to really learn from each other.”

Ideally, with outside funding, students and faculty hope to employ a full-time GDC director who will bring back more active programming, focus on education about diversity topics, and form a concrete structure for the space.

“Institutionally, there’s a need to have a space on campus where students, staff and faculty can feel safe discussing concerns that we can broadly call diversity,” Baram said. “Having a center just provides an opportunity for people to talk this out as well as to really make clear that that’s an important part of campus life.”

In the immediate future, the goals are to purchase new furniture, Wifi and a projector to show movies. New couches have been ordered and will arrive in March.

“People need to know that the GDC has multiple components,” Cockram said. “First off, it is a safe place for marginalized students on campus. Second, it is a resource for students to learn about diversity topics, and third it is a place for clubs that are related to gender and diversity to meet and it is their space rightfully.”

Referring to all the work that the students put into the ISP, Baram said, “There is a lot of interest [for a GDC], and it just needs a catalyst to get it going. I’m hopeful, so very hopeful, that like a lot of other small colleges and of course a lot of universities, New College will have a vibrant diversity center, one that people will be proud of and that reflects the values of the institution and its communities.”

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