U renews goal to connect with community

Kamariea Forcier

One major goal of the U2000 proposal challenges the University to reach out to the wider metropolitan community and share the school’s rich tradition of culture.
Some say the University has already been engaging the outside community for many years with the programs of its ethnic and religious cultural centers and arts resources. Still, some cultural centers fear that administrators aren’t taking their efforts seriously and are possibly trying to homogenize their groups.
Camara Refined Earth, a University student and member of the Africana Student Cultural Center, said the group has been working toward embracing the outside community for years.
Started in 1974, the group took on the name Africana in 1987, and finally moved to its location inside Coffman Memorial Union in 1989.
“Africana has never really received any support from the University,” she said. “Nothing has changed since U2000. Nobody has asked our input or treated us with any more respect since U2000.”
Other cultural centers agreed that U2000’s plan for diversity and outreach are what they’ve been working toward all along — creating an understanding and educating those who take an interest in their programs.
Jeremy Decory, a University student and member of the American Indian Cultural Center, said some people might feel they are not welcome at events, but that isn’t the center’s intention.
For example, “Most people see Native American storytelling as a private affair, but we’re trying to change that,” he said. “Our main target is the Indian community, but we’re trying to bring others into it. People think they’re not welcome, but we’re trying to reach out.”
The U2000 goals for cultural outreach stemmed from an effort to increase minority enrollment and retention at the University. But some members of the school’s cultural centers say they fear the University might not recognize their individuality.
Sarah Graves, a student with the Asian American Cultural Center, said she doesn’t feel the immediate impact of U2000, but said she has concerns about the future.
“In a way, it seems (the University) says it wants to increase cultural diversity, but it almost seems like they’re trying to blend the cultural centers together, put a cap on it and contain it,” she said.
Students from the Disabled Student Cultural Center voiced concerns that the University might not know what their organization is doing.
“In this community, we get lots of flack for not being highly visible in terms of big, flaunted events,” said Jane Toleno, a University student and member of the Disabled Student Cultural Center.
“But, we’re out there on street corners, on buses … in fact, DSCC is today being commended nationally for its work” in voter registration and education, she said.
Nonetheless, Refined Earth speaks very highly of one administrator who is trying to bring the center closer to the University.
“Rusty Barcelo was really instrumental in bringing Africana into the University administrative forum,” Refined Earth said. “No one has really reached out to us the way (she) has.”
Nancy (Rusty) Barcelo, associate vice president of academic affairs at the University, said her work with the student cultural centers has been vital to U2000’s goals of diversity and outreach at the University.
“I see the work with the cultural centers as critical toward achieving our diversity goals,” she said. “The input of students is very important in terms of sharing with us what their needs and concerns are and how we can address them. The students certainly have an important voice.”
Barcelo organized a fall retreat and several brown-bag lunches as ways to discuss issues important to students.
“Their involvement is very important to helping us to identify strategies for the future,” Barcelo said. “They let us know what is working and what is not working, and that’s very, very important.”
In large part, because of Barcelo’s work with Africana, Refined Earth said, she thinks the U2000 plan is headed the right way for the University.
“I do feel that outreach is a step in the right direction,” Refined Earth said. “We had to battle to be recognized as a student organization. What Rusty’s doing makes moves toward stopping the battle.
“We feel that we can have someone to talk to and know we’re being heard and taken seriously,” she said.
Other outreach programs come from the University’s arts community, and these seem to be receiving a more positive response.
Robert Bitzan, public relations director at the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, said people at the museum are enthusiastic about the museum’s role as an ambassador to people outside the University community.
“(The Weisman) is kind of like a point of entry to the University” for many people, he said. “It’s where the University and community can come together.”
Bitzan said the annual visitors to the museum are a mix between people at the University and those from the outer community.
“At least half the visitors to the Weisman are from outside of the University community,” Bitzan said. “It becomes a University resource and a community resource, because people can come to the museum for free.”
Bitzan said the museum’s displays and programs not only draw a diverse section of people from across the metropolitan area, but pull cultural groups together.
“We’ve been doing a great deal of programming with the African American and the Native American community,” said Bitzan.
One of the Weisman’s greatest assets, said Bitzan, is its ability to educate those visiting the University.
“We consider ourselves mainly a teaching museum, and we try to provide access to the University through our programs,” he said.
“This is a great way for outsiders to access and enjoy the resources of a great research University like the U of M in a very user-friendly way,” he said.