A necessary haven

Being a minority on campus can be daunting. In a University where more than 76 percent of all undergraduate students are white, the prospect of feeling welcome among the entire student body may seem impossible at first. Whether a student is black, Native American or a Chinese exchange student, students must often look within their racial communities to find comfort and welcome. ThatâÄôs where cultural student unions come in. The cultural student unions on campus are an underappreciated facet to a large, accomplished University. These centers unify racial groups in order to provide networking, support and information on important matters such as financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Ashley Bennett, community development chair for the Black Student Union, says that cultural centers are a powerful tool within minority groups. âÄúAt a University where the white population is so large, sometimes you feel uncomfortable going into an event where youâÄôre the only black person,âÄù Bennett explained. âÄúThatâÄôs when people come back to the cultural center where they feel welcome.âÄù Many cultural groups often host events for the purpose of reaching outside of their communities to other organizations on campus. The Black Student Union is holding their annual Unity Dinner in the Great Hall of Coffman Union to raise awareness and share their experiences and history with the public. Even though these student centers offer a familiar den of safety for many students, the University has been reducing funds for many existing organizations in recent years. The University spends millions of dollars on infrastructure, advertising and an array of other activities, but often forgets to place emphasis on students and student groups. Bennett attributes the cuts to a lack of understanding among the University and its student organizations. âÄúThey may cut a program, but they may not understand how important it is, because theyâÄôre not here,âÄù Bennett said. âÄúI feel like they could talk to the students themselves to find out what they say.âÄù Ashton Penister, the treasurer of the BSU, says that it has become increasingly difficult to procure funds for additional programs. âÄúNeedless to say, funds have gone down,âÄù lamented Penister. âÄúWe are in a constant struggle to prove ourselves as an organization.âÄù Although some students may be intimidated by small representation on campus, it is no secret that the University is a progressive and tolerant campus. Its students and professors often lean toward the left. The recent large-scale support shown by students for Barack Obama has been an example of how students do not see race as an excuse to preemptively judge a personâÄôs character. That being said, many white students are intimidated by different languages, different colors and different cultures. This ignorance sometimes leads to uncomfortable situations for minorities. These uncomfortable situations are what often drive students back to their student unions. That is why itâÄôs important that the cultural student unions work together and the University work with the unions to spread the word, encourage students to attend events and attempt to dispel racial divisions on campus by encouraging diversity among the students. Robert Downs welcomes comments at [email protected].