Group hopes for new union

There is no formal multicultural union plan, but a committee began discussions.

by Mohamad Elmasry

Avelino Mills-Novoa, associate vice president for the Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs, said his mentor once told him, “It’s difficult to dislike someone after you’ve listened to their story.”

That’s what a plan to build a multicultural union on campus is all about – telling and listening to people’s stories to increase understanding and decrease racial tension, he said.

Although there is no formal proposal for the union, a planning committee is discussing the idea.

Mills-Novoa said a multicultural union would centralize student services so students wouldn’t have to go to multiple offices for support. The union would provide advising, tutoring, computer labs, cultural and social support, financial aid assistance and student advocacy, he said.

It would be nice to have everything in one place, Mills-Novoa said.

He said the union is being planned in response to several problems at the University. Multicultural student services are scattered around campus, making it inconvenient to access them, he said, and another problem is the remote location of multicultural student services in Klaeber Court. The building is located on 16th Avenue Southeast between Fourth Street Southeast and University Avenue Southeast.

Mills-Novoa said the plan is to create a space that would be attractive and central – as close to Coffman Union as possible.

He said the union would allow multicultural students to identify with their heritages and bring different cultures together in an “intercultural center.”

Mills-Novoa said that he began talking about the union idea last spring when it became evident “collaboration was the way to go.”

“(There) needs to be a collaboration between multicultural affairs and the colleges,” he said.

Mills-Novoa said the union can ultimately help improve graduation and retention rates. But because the union will require a physical space, it will probably take several years for the project to come to fruition, he said.

Jerry Rinehart, the University vice provost for student affairs, said he’s “very supportive” of the union idea. He said the proposal for a union will be “very seriously considered” because the University administration is aware of the importance of making the campus inviting for all students.

Patrick Troup, Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence director, said the concept of having a central location for services is ideal for any student.

He also said different cultural groups are often separated from one another. Troup said it will be good to bring those students together to create intercultural dialogue and discussion.

Urban studies senior Kolu Paye said she thinks the union is a great idea. She said having to go to different locations for services is frustrating, and she doesn’t go to Klaeber Court because it isn’t convenient or accessible.

“The layout of Klaeber Court is uninviting,” she said.

Sam Adegoke, Black Student Union president and a Minnesota Daily columnist, said he thinks a combined multicultural union would be a “strong asset to this campus.”

The campus would be doing itself a great service by implementing something like this, especially because there are a lot of statements coming from the administration without action, he said.

Adegoke said he’ll start to really believe the administration is devoted to diversity and recruiting minority students when he sees something progressive and deliberate, such as the union.