I’m appalled but not surprised that Amherst students would vote “No” on making the Multicultural Resource Center more visible on campus. Appalled because the MRC was founded because of a large push made by the students, which initially lacked administrative support. Now that the MRC finally has administrative support, it has lost its allegiance from current Amherst students. Before I go further, let me be clear that this article is my opinion and does not necessarily reflect upon the MRC’s.
There will be many students who think the MRC should stay in its current location mainly because it has not been successful on campus, therefore it does not need more space or resources. But I want to flip this argument around. Working as a peer programmer for over a year now, I can tell you personally that the MRC is extremely underfunded and understaffed, which inhibits its ability to be more present on campus and resourceful for students.
Speaking of which, there has been confusion over the purpose of having a Multicultural Resource Center in the first place. The MRC was created with the goal of promoting different cultures that make up our student body and helping transition students into the Amherst community. I’m using the word ‘culture’ broadly to include gender, race, sexual orientation, class, religious affinity, etc. It is supposed to be a central hub to mediate issues pertaining to diversity. It is also supposed to be a resource for affinity groups, should they need help with programming, funding, or space for meetings. The MRC aspires to be exactly what it is named: a resource for all students. These resources need to be expanded.
There will be many that also think that the MRC does not serve in the interests for the majority of students. This is wrong. Despite there being a dominant culture on campus, Amherst College is still multicultural. We have students from all over the world, with various religious beliefs, from all and mixed backgrounds and with differing life experiences. Contrary to popular belief, diversity is more than just race. We must all adopt an intersectional perspective, which means we need to accept that everyone has varying and even conflicting identities, not just students of color.
I have a hard time understanding how we all do our best in the admissions process to stand out and be unique only to falter back into line and conform to the dominant culture. And not everyone can easily do that — there are those who struggle here. I can speak personally that I do not feel like I fully belong here, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. There are too many students on campus who are silently suffering and feel like they are not good enough, not smart enough, not rich enough and so on. I encourage these students to speak up because you’re not alone. If the Amherst community can unite over sexual assault issues on campus, as we have done this semester, why can’t we unite, promote and support each other over diversity issues?
I know the majority who read this might feel no connection or understanding of the experiences I speak about. This is where I have no other choice but to include the dreaded “P” word. Privilege. Among your fellow peers are students who really are suffering here, on top of normal academic stress, because they are not part of the historically advantaged group that make up most of the student body. Amherst students, check your privilege and realize that the MRC can be a helpful resource for students that have problems you may not understand exist. Amherst cannot just have a push for diversity in the admissions process only to leave diverse students without an adequate resource during their four years here. Diverse students, though not the majority, are still students of Amherst, and they are entitled to a successful and thriving MRC.
It is my honest opinion that the move should have never been put to vote in the first place. A main reason why there has been a push for the MRC to move is to increase its visibility to the general student body. For those that do not know, the MRC office is in the basement of Keefe, where the majority of Amherst students rarely go. If students do not see the center, how can anyone expect students to use the center? But apart from the fact that it should be apparent that a move needs to happen, it is important to note that a move was always going to happen. The MRC’s current location was temporary, because the AAS gave up their office space when the MRC was newly created, meaning that a move was always expected.
The MRC is in a tricky position. It is not a student group, even though it has more students working for them than actual staff. It is an entity that belongs to Amherst College, except administrative support has only just become a recent phenomenon. The battle between getting support from the administration and the students has been tough, and as I have already mentioned, there has been a flip-flop on views toward the MRC.
I do not see why the women’s center never had their move contested (not that I would ever contest it) but the MRC did. Will it take some controversial racial act to give the MRC equal priority — oh wait. This past weekend there was a bias incident. What are our priorities here? I believe the prevailing idea is still that keeping the game room is more important than tackling diversity issues on campus. I feel like it is necessary to point out that we were never going to lose our precious game room. We do not need a central space for the game room if students will be flocking to it regardless, which is why the location is more crucial for the MRC. I understand that there were multiple reasons behind why students voted “No”, but I don’t believe enough in the student body for them to have voted “No” because they thought the move wasn’t adequate enough. Now that a racial incident actually did happen, will the opinions towards the MRC change now?
Williams College, whose student body isn’t nearly as diverse as our own, has a fully functional and successful Multicultural Center. Should the MRC get an entire building to itself as Williams College has done? I definitely think so, because Keefe is an architectural nightmare, but this has to happen in stages. The MRC needs to increase its visibility first — more staff, programming and space. The MRC also needs to change the outlook most students have toward it now. I want students to view it with as much respect as they do for other important entities on campus such as the CCE. The MRC has the potential; it just needs the chance.
Visibility was one step toward fostering an inclusive environment at the College, and Amherst students, you blew it. More than just the MRC move, the vote reflects issues I have with our student body in general. The vote turn out was dismal — not even half of the student body voted. This reflects on the apathetic nature of Amherst students.
We don’t have the time nor do we seem to care about important issues. Shall we continue to live in divisive spaces that do not foster community? We are at a pivotal point in our college’s history. So much change is happening and so much change can be done. What will be our legacy as students?