Chris Wilson grew up in a poor, black neighborhood in Detroit, but the United Front Multicultural Center at USD will always be home.
“The UF gave me a place I found comfort in,” says Wilson ’03. “It was a space for people of color to let our guard down. I owe UF a lot for helping me find my place in the world.”
Wilson, USD’s first Ethnic Studies graduate and first African-American Associated Students president, also takes pleasure in recalling those he met inside Room 128, a ground-floor space in the Hahn University Center. “The UF created people who care,” he says. “It sparked my knowledge. It’s not technically a classroom, but it was a classroom.”
The center’s dynamic is immediately welcoming. There’s an inspirational mural covering the left wall, with colors and symbols representing student organizations. Three comfortable couches serve as a social hotspot. Behind the couches are the office spaces of 11 student organizations.
“To me it’s a space where all students are welcome and feel safe enough to explore their identity and really grapple with some of the struggles that come with some of those identities,” says Kimberley Fernandes, the center’s assistant director.
The center opened Nov. 14, 1997; an informal 10th anniversary celebration took place last November. A formal event on Feb. 15 welcomed attendees with spiritual words representing different cultures, an exotic dinner menu, and students performed tinikling (a Filipino folk dance), spoken-word poetry and a moitai (martial arts-like) demonstration.
“Students pushed the university to a level that promoted a campus where people feel safe, included and can express their views and perspectives,” says Guadalupe Corona ‘97 (M.A.), director of the UFMC from August 1997 to June 2007.
United Front’s genesis can be traced back to the spring of 1993, when five student organizations submitted a written proposal to then-Dean of Students Thomas Burke for a multicultural center. As it grew, United Front took a leadership role for a more inclusive and diverse community.
For example, the group lobbied to have anti-hate crimes language added to USD’s harassment policy in 1998. United Front also pushed to have sexual orientation added to USD’s discrimination policy in 2000, and advocated for the addition of ethnic studies to the curriculum.
“(United Front) has been very successful in bringing forward young women and men who are really engaging. It’s helped them become potential leaders not only on campus, but also in our community,” says Albert Pulido, director of ethnic studies.
New leadership will play a role in UFMC’s future. Women’s Center Director Erin Lovette-Colyer is its interim director. Dean of Students Donald Godwin says a search firm was finding candidates in April so USD could interview candidates in May, allowing students to have a voice in the hiring process.
Corona, now director for Latino/a initiatives at Alliant International University, is excited about the next wave of students.
“There’s a new generation of what we call ‘millennium students.’ They’re much more progressive, much more inclusive, and they’ve been raised in an environment where a diverse and global economy is more prevalent. It will bring diversity to a whole new level.”