A group of E.O. Smith High School students met with student representatives from the University of Connecticut’s cultural centers on Thursday to engage in civil discourse. The discussion was centered around the role of cultural centers, the echo chamber-like environment they may create and life as a minority on campus.
The meeting, organized by E.O Smith senior Alcy Stiepock Mackay, is part of a larger project to spread the opinions of different groups of people who may not always be heard in the community, Mackay said.
“There’s not a lot of diversity (at E.O. Smith), so you often don’t get a lot of different opinions,” Mackay said. “So it was nice to get a discussion going between UConn’s cultural centers and E.O. Smith students to hear something you wouldn’t on a daily basis.”
Of the approximately 30 E.O. Smith students who attended the meeting, many said they were curious as to what the benefits and roles of cultural centers are on campus.
In response to the questions, fourth-semester UConn student and representative of the Rainbow Center Lyric McVoy said that cultural centers don’t just have one role on campus, but rather function as “community centers of refuge.”
“While cultural centers on campus do hold different events centered around the focus of the culture, they also act as a refuge,” McVoy said. “They are an inclusive space where you can study, calm down, and interact with people who are similar to you.”
Jovanni Vicenty, a fourth-semester representative of the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center also gave his take on that question, saying that cultural centers also act as areas of personal and cultural education.
“Cultural centers are also a place where you can learn about your culture or even other people’s culture,” Vicenty said. “In a predominantly white school it’s important to have the ability to learn about other points of view.”
Mackay asked the cultural center representatives if joining a cultural center prevented students from meeting people who were different than them.
McVoy replied that she believes that cultural centers are not “exclusive clubs to coddle students,” but rather are here to augment the student experience at UConn.
“It’s all about going at your own pace – you go to what you want and don’t go to what you don’t want,” McVoy said. “Cultural centers allow room for having other obligations and meeting different people because college is all about what you make of it.”
E.O. Smith teacher and UConn alumna Amy Nocton asked the panel of representatives if cultural centers and the people who frequent them have been targeted or attacked due to the recent events in the nation’s politics.
McVoy said that there will always be students who are judgmental of cultural centers and the people involved, but that most of the attacks have come from the university’s administration.
“Personally, there are people who are not as open to the centers, but nobody really attacks us or says anything bad, it’s more judgmental,” McVoy said. “Although the school did attack the cultural centers when they didn’t allow us to be included in homecoming festivities.”
Sixth semester representative of the African American Cultural Center Nadejah Green said that she was heartened by the support of other organizations on campus after a group of students and alumni came out against the creation of African American organizations on campus.
“Some students and alumni on Facebook attacked ScHOLA²RS House and the cultural center as ‘coddling centers,’” Green said. “I was very happy to see predominantly white fraternities and sororities along with other student organizations stand in support of us though.”
In response to a question about hearing the other sides of issues within the cultural centers, McVoy said that civil discourse does indeed take place within these centers because not everyone has the same point of view.
“We have spirited debate within the center because although we agree on some basic things, we do differ on many issues,” McVoy said. “Also, being a member of a cultural center makes me more educated to debate and talk to other people who aren’t involved in the center.”
Green said that she agrees with McVoy about hearing different opinions on campus because cultural centers are not exclusively where a student is.
“Students involved in cultural centers still go to class and live with others,” Green said. “Cultural centers teach you to never back down on your views and always open your ears to differing points.”
Andrew Miano is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.