The Arizona Desert Lamp

Unity Center, already done?

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 25 March 2009

Unity Center, LiverpoolBen Kalafut remarked a few days ago that the Tucson Citizen was the top paper in the area , and they’re certainly living up to that reputation today:

The University of Arizona will eliminate its four cultural centers in July in a overarching realignment and reorganization of the Student Affairs Office.

Also, the Office of Orientation and the University Learning Center will be eliminated, while centers for social justice, women, and sexual orientation will be included with the cultural centers under an umbrella unit tentatively called the Community Center.

The reorganization aims to streamline new student enrollment through the creation of a “Next Steps Center.” It also aims to increase student retention by expanding the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center to include services for the entire campus, not just students with learning challenges.

The language here sure makes it sound like it’s a done deal, which is surprising since there has been almost no public debate about the matter. The issue of the Unity Center (a bad name, but better than the excreble ‘Community Center.’ Can we at least call it “The WASP-Fighting League” to give it a superhero ring?) was brought up at both the executive and legislative forums for ASUA candidates, but no one gave any sense that this was imminent, or that student leaders had absolutely no authority in making the decision.

Also, it looks my jovial “seize the social justice wing” comment is being considered as serious policy:

Thompson said the decision of where to locate the new Community Center has not yet been made, but three locations being considered are the Nugent Building, the second floor of Old Main and the space in the Student Union where the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership is located.

It’s curious that the MLK Center isn’t even being considered – will African American student affairs move? The Nugent Building probably makes the most sense, as it already houses the department of Native American affairs, Multicultural Programs & Centers, and Asian Pacific American affairs. Naturally, this proposal – or, I guess, decision – brings up the “homogenization” critique:

J.J. Federico, a Latin American Studies senior, said those are good goals, but that combining the centers into one space “is a very bad idea.”

“I was on the team and I told them it will give the illusion that all minority students – be they minority because of race, sexual orientation or gender – that we are all the same, and that’s not true. It will create a sense of homogeneity, not diversity,” Federico said. “I agree there needs to be a way to show solidarity, but I think we can have unity and celebration of diversity without institutionalizing homogeneity.”

Somehow, even though Native American affairs and Asian Pacific American affairs are housed in the same building, I don’t confuse the Cherokee with the Chinese. I don’t see how sharing the electric bill weakens a culture. It is important here to differentiate here between economic concerns and cultural mission – now, it is essential to act rationally regarding the former in order to preserve the latter.

Presumably, every center will at minimum have its own office space, in which they will be able to conduct their own affairs. But, as I said earlier, when they want to mobilize forces they will have a far greater resources at hand. These groups certainly have common interests – a condom and sexual awareness blitz should be important not just to the Women’s Center, but to the Hispanic/Chicano and African American students as well (groups that are disproportionally afflicted with STDs).

The common underlying thread will be social justice instead of pluralism, and this is disappointing. Someday, we can hope, intellectual diversity will work its way into the proposed center as well.

Image courtesy of Flickr user saralparker


2 Responses

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  1. A. Hill said, on 25 March 2009 at 11:26 am

    “it will give the illusion that all minority students – be they minority because of race, sexual orientation or gender – that we are all the same”

    isn’t that kind of what these centers do in the first place? i never really felt comfortable going to the ones that would apply to me because i wasn’t sure i was “feminist enough” or “queer enough” to do so, or why i should automatically feel a sense of community with other people who happen to also fit those descriptors. to a certain extent, doesn’t the very existence of a “women’s resource center” or a “lgbtq center” suggest that all people who share one of these attributes a. consider that attribute relevant if not central to their identity and b. are similar enough to each other and different enough from the “mainstream” that they need their own special place?

    i wouldn’t argue that the idea is totally bad — some information or experiences, for instance, are going to only be relevant to or experienced by members of that group and it can’t hurt to have a place to go to get that info and share those experiences and have support — but having these little centers also creates the illusion that each group is in some way homogenous. the way we deal with diversity — the way we identify and support marginalized people — really needs to be discussed and revised.

  2. […] only problem here is that the Unity Center has already been approved, and is slated for enactment on July 1 – a mere proposal this ain’t. Regardless of whether or […]

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