Culture clubs as comfort zones

Losing space might not be all bad for Coffman’s student groups.

Leah Lancaster

As a shy freshman girl who came to the University of Minnesota not knowing a soul, I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered the Asian Student Union, one of the many culture clubs on the second floor of Coffman Union. Nestled in room 219, this large organization connected me to hundreds of other Asian-Americans and international students who welcomed me with open arms.

It didnâÄôt take long for ASU to become my life. I would hang out in the room every day between classes and go out with fellow members every weekend. I noticed that the Minnesota International Student Association, Black Student Union, AlâÄìMedinah Cultural Center and other big clubs with their own space experienced a similar dynamic. These rooms facilitated a family-like atmosphere that made it easy for people to bond and develop close relationships. However, after a year of being an active ASU member, I began to realize that I might be limiting myself instead of doing what I had intended to do in college: broaden my
horizons.

While these clubs are a great place to meet other people with similar backgrounds, IâÄôve found they tend to have an isolating effect. On a campus with more than 50,000 students, I felt I only knew the ones in ASU âÄî people who were generally very similar to me. Also, many of these clubs have their own hierarchy and cliques, making a college experience at a big school ultimately feel more like a high school one. I will always look back on my time on the second floor with fond memories, but looking back I can recognize that for me, it acted as more of a safety net than a jump-off point for new experiences.

When the news broke that many of the culture clubs could lose their rooms in 2012, I experienced feelings of nostalgia-induced sadness, yet a strong urge to look at all the positives that can come out of this situation. On a campus as huge and diverse as the UniversityâÄôs, more minorities should step outside the comfort zone that the second floor represents.

Leah Lancaster welcomes comments at [email protected]