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:: By Amy Braverman Puma

:: Photography by Lloyd DeGrane

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Chicago Journal ::

Diverse crowd

The University opens a multicultural center on campus.

Boom! At the loud thumping of African drums, courtesy Chicago-based world-music band Funkadesi, the 75 or so people gathered at 5710 S. Woodlawn stopped chatting and began clapping and nodding to the festive beat. When the music ended a few minutes later, University President Robert J. Zimmer welcomed the crowd to the February 26 grand opening of the new Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA), LGBTQ Student Resource Office, and Amandla Center.


Funkadesi, a Chicago-based world-music band, entertains visitors in the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, LGBTQ Student Resource Office, and Amandla Center.


Visitors leave 5710 S. Woodlawn after the grand-opening celebration.

In the sunny main lounge, with green chairs, orange tables, and lantern-like chandeliers, Zimmer called the building’s opening “an exciting moment” for the University. Not only would the space house important programming and community events, he said, but also it symbolized “the University’s expanding and deepening commitment to diversity in all of its aspects.” The orange-brick building, which users refer to as 5710, has been designed for the “rough-and-tumble of academic exchange” and also to offer a home for several registered student organizations (RSOs), a “place where the communities involved can flourish.”

Spring quarter events at 5710, for instance, included screenings of the documentaries No! The Rape Documentary, and Skin Deep: College Students Confronting Racism; a Harvard Business School information session for Latino students; an OMSA graduate- and professional-student workshop; a meet-and-greet for cultural RSOs; and several brown-bag lunches.

Following Zimmer at the opening-day event was Kenneth Warren, deputy provost for research and minority issues, who recalled that a group of students approached the University in 2003, asking for a space dedicated to diversity. In response the Amandla Resource Center, meant to celebrate and embrace cultural diversity, was set up in the Harper Library mezzanine, Warren said, but students complained that it wasn’t “the proper place or large enough” for their needs. Then Lizette Durand, AB’01, PhD’07, who sat on several student committees that helped make the new facility happen, took up the story of the center’s genesis from the minority students’ perspective, saying they wanted a place “to express our individuality without feeling out of place on campus.”

Vice President and Dean of Students Kimberly Goff-Crews toasted the building’s future. Ana Vazquez, deputy dean of students and director of OMSA (the M officially changed from “minority” to “multicultural” in July 2007) thanked administrators such as Bill Michel, AB’92, assistant vice president for student life and associate dean of the College, who led the effort. The space, Vazquez noted, was built entirely with institutional funds. Then Zimmer joined student representatives from several minority-student organizations in a ribbon-cutting that made the opening official. The groups included Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, the Native American Student Association, PanAsia, the Chinese Undergraduate Students Association, the African and Caribbean Student Association, and Queers & Associates.

Free to tour the converted mansion—formerly home to University Publications and Human Resources Management—the guests roamed the three floors while nibbling on popcorn, quesadillas, dessert pastries, and chicken wings. They oohed and ahhed at the sun-filled lounges on each floor and agreed that it was, indeed, a place that students and staff of all cultures could call home.