Formed in the 1970s, Ball State’s Multicultural Center has served as a resource for students of color and other minority groups for nearly 50 years. Now located in the heart of campus near Bracken Library, the center hopes to educate and inform students on current issues relating to race, culture and inclusivity.
The center has hosted multiple events since the start of the fall 2021 semester — the first being its Aug. 27 welcome celebration that featured more than 20 student organizations, a DJ and free food. Bobby Steele, director of the Multicultural Center, was there to welcome students and organizations to the new building.
Steele has worked at the university for 10 years and has served as the director of the Multicultural Center since June 2017, previously serving as interim director and associate director.
“Our mission stays the same,” Steele said. “One main thing that we have been able to capitalize on [is allowing] more students to be able to access the space, but as far as our programming and our mission, all of that has — and will — stay focused on making sure that students can find community in our space.”
The previous building, which was located behind the L.A. Pittenger Student Center, didn’t follow Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, meaning students with disabilities might not have been able to easily access the building, Steele said. He said the new structure, built in compliance with ADA guidelines, will allow all students to access the facility and its amenities.
Some of the amenities featured in the new center include a conference room, study lounge, library, kitchen, ice cream shop and student artwork.
“One of the things that I have appreciated the most so far is the student artwork,” Steele said. “It was created by students, and it really displays the talent that students have on campus.”
Artwork on display was chosen from both current and previous Ball State students, Steele said. In the future, students will be able to submit artwork for display in the building.
“I feel like [the artwork] will help other students feel like they can be represented,” Steele said. “We are still looking for additional art in the building as well, so that is an opportunity for students to submit their artwork for consideration.”
Jaylyn Graham, information and communication sciences graduate student, was one of the artists picked to have original art displayed in the new center. He said his work on display, “The Colorism Series,” shows how today's society views women with dark complexions.
“I wanted people to know that it doesn’t matter what your skin tone is,” Graham said. “Your Black is beautiful.”
Steele chose Graham’s artwork for the Multicultural Center after seeing it in an art show at Park Hall. Though Graham’s original piece, which he made from Reese's, Hershey's, honey and caramel, is no longer on display because it melted, he provided the center with a reprint.
“I was adamant about getting my work in the [Multicultural Center],” Graham said. “I had a couple pieces, and I just reached out to Bobby. I’m truly honored. Everyone's going to see my name. Everyone's going to see the message that I was trying to convey. I’m hoping that it'll have a positive effect.”
In addition to the artwork on display, the center’s Malcolm X Library includes hundreds of books, as well as awards, pictures and educational pieces.
“Most of our titles in the [Malcolm X Library are] focused on strictly diversity and inclusion,” Steele said. “We do share some titles [with Bracken Library], but our library strictly focuses on diversity and inclusion, as well as belonging.”
Steele’s favorite book, “The New Jim Crow,” is currently not in the library, but he said he wants to add it in the future. The book covers the mass incarceration of African American men during the war on drugs from the 1970s to present day. He said the library will continue diversifying its collection of books but will remain dedicated to keeping titles relating to diversity and inclusion on its shelves.
Along with a number of resources for individual students, the Multicultural Center also serves student organizations with its conference room and event spaces. Feona Dabson, junior biochemistry major and president of the African Student Association (ASA), attended the Multicultural Center’s welcome celebration and said she hopes to use the building for her organization in the future.
“I really hope that, this year, we can use the Multicultural Center to our advantage and be able to share the culture of Africa,” she said. “People of all colors — people of all backgrounds — can come and join and also [share] their stories and their experiences.”
Dabson said the university's commitment to building the Multicultural Center is an important step in building inclusivity on campus.
“I think [the new Multicultural Center] is just one of those milestones — one of those big steps that we continue to make toward bringing diversity as well as inclusiveness to campus,” Dabson said. “We all can teach [each other] something about where we come from or what we know.”
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