by Josie Gereszek
Student Senate passed two motions Thursday demanding campus safe spaces remain autonomous in the midst of an upcoming CMU renovation project and that the Women’s Center is sustained in its current location.
To the dismay of some students, the renovation’s proposal has called for the conglomeration of all diverse groups and spaces on campus into a community area dubbed the Mosaic Center.
“Safe spaces look fundamentally different than how the Mosaic Center looks,” said women’s and gender studies senior Chandler Esslinger. “They provide completely different services to the university.”
The senate’s minutes state it recognizes the need for individual populations within MSUM’s community to have an element of autonomy, and the proposed Mosaic Center fails to recognize the needs of these students through current architectural design. The request for the Women’s Center’s continued location is cited as a consideration of the prominent collaboration between the space and the women’s and gender studies department offices, which exist down the hall.
The actions were preluded by presentations and personal statements from representatives of four stakeholder groups, the Women’s Center, Rainbow Dragon Center, the American Indian Research and Resource Center, and the Black Student Union. Students shared experiences of racism, homophobia and sexism in an effort to establish the value of the autonomous centers. The group’s attendance apparently wasn’t missed on the student leaders.
Despite promises from administration that the American Indian Research and Resource Center will remain autonomous, its student representatives were at the meeting to advocate for the other spaces. The Black Student Union was also represented by its president, Lexi Byler. Women’s and gender studies senior Melissa Gonzalez said Byler’s been making sure the involved spaces aren’t alone in their fight.
“As students who come from black descent, we understand the hostility that a predominately white, cis-gendered, heterosexual and able-bodied campus can create,” Byler said. “We understand that these spaces act as a safe haven for marginalized students, including us. Marginalized students deserve to have a space to be unapologetically themselves and to have their identities affirmed instead of judged.”
And the support doesn’t only exist offline. A social media campaign erupted last month among the groups against the center to establish their reasons for opposition. They’ve been tweeting at President Anne Blackhurst, Vice President Yvette Underdue Murph and Provost Michelle Malott.
“We’ve been talking to them, or talking at them, about our spaces and the positive experiences we’ve been having and reasons why the love for our school is heightened because of these spaces,” Gonzalez said. “They’ve really been positive tweets, but they are critical. We want them to listen to us, and know why we are doing what we’re doing.”
But she said the tweets have generally gone unanswered or unacknowledged, and some have been deleted.
“Some people were talking about why they love the school and how the safe spaces were a part of that,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not sure why they were deleted, but they were, so that’s something we’ve been questioning. We haven’t gotten any answers.”
It’s for these reasons that Esslinger said the experience with the senate was refreshing.
“They recognized these connections that these spaces have with the students and academia and its role in higher education,” she said. “It helps put a little more teeth and support into these dialogues that we’ve been having with administration because now that we have Student Senate on our side, the governing body of the students who are supposed to be supporting us, that really speaks volumes about how important they do find safe spaces and how important they find the lives of students, which is something that we have not been getting from the administration.”
“Some of the things that were said were, ‘This is our job, we’re supposed to be here for our students and if we’re going to have our students come here with their statements and their tears, what are we doing if we just ignore them?’” she said. “It’s nice to know that there are also students who have influence and ways to help us and talking with them throughout the semester has been a very helpful and positive experience.”
Now, the students wait to hear from administration what will become of their spaces.
Student Senate representative Sean Duckworth said the future is still uncertain.
“Moving forward we’ll continue having discussions, and the CMU renovation process, of which the Mosaic Center is one part, is still something the senate is actively participating in and discussing,” he said. “There’s a lot left unspecified and unsettled, so there’s room for discussion and maneuvering still.”
Esslinger said she thinks it would be a mistake for administration to not listen to the student requests.
“I would hope that the administration would take the senate’s demands very seriously,” Esslinger said. “It would appear that more people are in opposition of safe spaces being taken away than are in support of that, and I think anybody who cares about the lives of students on campus would take that very seriously. If they don’t, they’re sending a very strong message as to who they’re actually supporting and who they want to appear to support.”