On a chilly afternoon, students gather in the cozy community lounge of 5710 S. Woodlawn, conversations of diversity and identity swirling around the room. This building, formerly the home of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs [OMSA] and the Office of LGBTQ Student Life, has always been a home on campus for students of marginalized identities. Now, after a summer of renovations, that home looks a little different. And it has a new name: the Center for Identity and Inclusion.
These renovations reflect the goals of the center. “To maintain as comfortable and welcoming environment as possible it was really necessary to make some changes that would keep the building looking as beautiful as it always has,” said the Center’s Senior Associate Director, Ronnie Rios. Throughout the building, newly furnished hardwood floors replace old carpet, and bright new paint covers the walls. Glass doors create a sense of openness in the building, showing students that this space exists for everybody. When planning the renovations, the Center’s team made an effort to incorporate student input and honor the building’s original elements.
"The renovations were signaling to the student body that this place is becoming more important,” said Vo Ram Yoon, a fourth-year on OMSA’s Student Advisory Board. “It's a recognition that a lot of people respect this space and they want to use this space."
“It's a really cozy, quiet spot, and it just feels welcoming,” added fourth year Madeleine Klinger, an Emerging Minds Protect Cohort Facilitator.
OMSA and the Office of LGBTQ Student Life continue to do the work that they’ve always done. Each office still provides programming that addresses current events and the complexities of identity, while additionally encouraging dialogue on what it means to be a student of color and/or a LGBTQ student. The creation of the Center for Identity and Inclusion brings these two offices under one umbrella.
With the new name also comes a new office: the Office of Student Support Services, which will work to address the needs of low income, first generation, and undocumented students. “[It] came out of work that OMSA has been doing for years,” said Rios. “Creating Student Support Services made sense in actually structuring and naming that work that we had been doing and in giving us an opportunity to actually focus and specialize on it.”
Programming from the Office of Student Support Services will focus on creating a campus environment where low-income, first-generation, and undocumented students can succeed. It's crafting educational and training programs to help students, faculty, and staff understand how to support these students. The Office plans to reach out to students to figure out what programming they’d like to see towards creating a more supportive community.
Vo is excited about the new office. “[It] sends up a sign that you are welcome in this space,” he said. “You deserve to be here, no matter what anybody tells you. And that you are going to make it. We are here to support you through all four years."
Since the launch of the Center for Identity and Inclusion, the three offices under the Center will be working together more than they had in the past. “We appreciate what it means to have multiple identities,” said Karlene Burrell-McRae, the Director of the Center for Identity and Inclusion. “We appreciate what it means to have some of our identities marginalized and some privileged.”
Each office will maintain its area of expertise, but now each will pay more attention to intersectionality. “We’ll be working collaboratively with the other offices to make sure that we’re sharing content and making sure that everything is as inclusive as possible,” said Emy Cardoza, an associate director at OMSA.
Vo hopes that unifying these three offices will appeal to students with multiple marginalized identities. “It makes students more comfortable in affiliating themselves with more offices instead of choosing one identity over the other,” said Vo.
Center for Identity and Inclusion director Karlene Burrell McRae wants to reach out to alumni and reconnect them to the UChicago community. She and the rest of the staff want to make both the center and the entirety of campus a safe space for students of all backgrounds. Students agree and want to work toward these goals.
"My hope for the Center for Identity and Inclusion is that people of all identities will be comfortable coming here,” said Vo. “[So] we can create a more powerful community that has a supportive environment. And through this we can make rest of campus a safe space for everybody regardless of how they identify."