By: Sarah O’Connor, Staff Writer
The Multicultural Center (MCC) is located at the Woodbury Campus Center at the Portland campus. Passing by, it seems like another study space, complete with computers and students working on their homework. However, the Center is more than that. According to Anila Karunakar, coordinator of multicultural student affairs, it is a “space where [students] can walk in and feel at home with each other.”
According to the USM website, the Multicultural Center’s purpose is to provide a supportive and diverse space for the USM community. It serves as a catalyst in providing a community for students of color. The space is open to all students, and diversity is key as it is the location of cultural activities, celebrations, and student organization meetings, such as the Multicultural Student Association.
For some students, like Abdi Dahir, the Center is a part of their everyday lives. Dahir goes to the MCC between each class, and he uses it “to kill time and unwind.” He sees a poor outcome if the Multicultural Center ceased to exist.
“I would effect a lot of people [if it was closed],” Dahir said. “A lot of freshmen kids come here to gain knowledge, not just for school, but to get help getting to class.”
Karunakar sees the Multicultural Center as a good way for students to meet each other. She said, “The Center plays a key role in the success of students. There’s so much to be said about people who experience the same things as you. You will have people who get it. They don’t need to use so many words – they just get it.”
Abdi Atoor was at the Multicultural Center for the first time, and went to both study and hang out. His friends suggested he use the Center, where he also met them to socialize, and he immediately knew it was a “safe place” and that “anyone is welcome.”
Indeed, Karunakar made it clear that all who entered are welcome into the Center. She said, “Their accents, language, beliefs have a safe place in this space.”
Pdg Muhamiriza, Study Body President at USM, sees the Multicultural Center as having a vital role in the USM community to promote diversity and celebrate differences.
“It is imperative to not only understand the set of beliefs that our community of USM stands for as a whole,” Muhamiriza said, “but to also ensure that those beliefs precede every initiative we undertake or move we make. In that sense, the Multicultural Center is a successful example of how we put an emphasis on academic creativity that’s highly promoted by an increasing diverse population.”
Regarding how the Multicultural Center’s presence affects the community, Muhamiriza said, “This vibrant room in Woodbury campus center is the epitome of harmonious ways in which our different cultures intertwine at the University of Southern Maine and where we learn about the positive sides of history. Students from all over the world find shelter in the MCC, and its implication is major and we rely on it to shine the values of innumerable ideas shaped by miscellaneous experiences.”
The Multicultural Center has proved to provide much more than just computers and studying spaces, but the work is not over, according to Karunakar. Karunakar sees the Center as being student governing, so she hopes that its growth comes from the students and they get what they hope for.
“We’re still in the works to make strategic programs, but it depends on what the students want,” she said. “We’re finding ways where students take the lead for that space and say, ‘this is what we want to do,’” She refers to the clubs and organizations that have roots in the Multicultural Center.
Pdg Muhamiriza said that both USM and student government support the Multicultural Center.
“The Administration and Student government are to applaud and recognize the MCC as a specially vital part of our university,” she said. “Its success means both a successful diversity campaign, and a successful University of Southern Maine.”
As such, the map Anila Karunakar ordered this summer will be put up for students to mark their homes, and the MCC will continue to grow from the work of MCC students and provide a safe space for all students that need it.