By Lucia Solórzano
As a student of color at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it’s never surprising to be asked: “what are you?” Full disclosure: I am half-Peruvian and half unknown Caucasian. Despite being an annoying question, I usually answer it because I can tell it’s well-intended or I’ll say something like “I am.. a person?” But in sophomore year, one random white guy walked up to me at a party and asked me that question. Internally rolling my eyes, I told him.
What he said next made me…very uncomfortable: “Wow, that’s so cool. White people are like a parasite to the earth and you being mixed is helping further the human race.”
I think he meant well. But it’s lack of self-awareness on what to say to a person of color on campus that highlights the microaggressions (even if well intended) that students of color often experience. Smaller incidents like this, along with extreme ones such as the racist graffiti in the Melville dormitory, demonstrate why we need a multicultural center at UMass in an accessible location to provide students of color with a community that understands what they are going through.
UMass currently provides services to students of color through organizations such as CMASS (Center of Multicultural Academic Student Success), Student Bridges, and all the multicultural student-run clubs. Student Bridges connects college and high school student through mentoring programs. CMASS provides access to weekly events around campus, promotes events from other multicultural organizations, and hosts classes, heritage dinners, therapy advising, first-generation student advising, and more. However, none of these clubs or organizations are located in the Student Union besides Student Bridges, which is more of an administration office.
Other universities, such as Amherst College and Rochester Institute of Technology (the school I transferred from), have multicultural centers inside their Student Unions that have services ready, staff on the clock, and a space to hang out and do work together. Both of these schools’ centers have high involvement with students of color and they are in a central location on campus so that people can stop by at any time.
When I first arrived at UMass Amherst as a transfer student, location really mattered. I barely had an orientation, so I went to the central places on campus to look for refuge, but there weren’t spaces similar to the multicultural center at RIT that I loved so much. Places like CMASS and other groups, which do so much good, were out of my peripheral and placed in out-of-sight, out-of-mind locations on the other side of campus.
UMass does have a lot of resources for students of color, but they are all dispersed and there is no central place for students to gather and find resources. Something like an extension of a CMASS office to the Campus Center would be great for students of color to easily access information, provide a hang-out space, as well as another possible space for multicultural clubs to gather. If our school truly cares about its diversity — resources for school, mental health, and financial aid, amongst other things should be more accessible and in a central location that is easy to find for groups that need a little extra support.