The newly completed annex for Missouri State University’s Multicultural Resource Center is now accessible to students. But behind the seemingly crowded open house ceremony last month inside Freudenberger House, some students have their reservations about this venue.
“The facility means good and bad things,” Ravyn Brooks, junior sociology student, told KSMU at the open house party. “The good part is there’s more space. We now actually have a safe zone for LGBT plus.”
“The bad part is all of this is reactive instead of being proactive. Everything that has happened in this building, down to the furniture, was in response to the students,” Brooks added.
(Brooks - as she's identified herself for past news reports and as is listed in the MSU student directory - identified herself to KSMU as Ravyn X).
The annex is named after Mary Jean Price Walls, who in 1950 was the school’s first African-American applicant but was denied admission. She would eventually receive the first honorary undergraduate degree given by MSU.
The space was originally occupied by Trio Student Support Services. After it moved to the library in summer 2015, talks began about the area’s future use.
“We have had the MRC in the Plater Student Union for a while, and the students love that space. They use it a lot and it’s often packed,” said Dee Siscoe, vice president for Student Affairs, at the open house event. “And we heard students say that they’d like an additional space, more space, more place to have meetings and events, so we started to think about how we could do that.”
Many student organizations had requested additional space, including the Veteran Student Services and LGBTQ Resource Center. Siscoe said she initially talked to Veteran Students about the space, however, they ultimately decided to be closer to the staff offices.
The LGBTQ Resource Center, originally located in the basement of University Hall, is now completely moved into the MRC annex. According to the school, the space is also a conference room for students, computer lab, lounge area, and kitchen.
Siscoe says the annex is funded by the university’s carry-over fund, a roughly $70,000 expense.
“I think it’s great that there is a space for not only LGBTQ students but also students of color. But I really wonder if it’s more visible,” Shawna Barkley, senior in communication, said. “I literally had to have someone bring me here today because I didn’t know the basement of Freddy, not access from the main entrance.”
To Brooks and Barkley, the annex is a symbol of public relations for the university.
“Most people, including the administration didn’t even frequent that area (the original MRC in the Plaster Student Union), yet this place is crowded today,” Brooks said.
The university is still in the process of appointing a director for the annex, which is currently under the interim direction of Tajuan Wilson.
The Springfield Coalition for Minority Advancement (SCMA), whose members include Brooks and Barkley, has been in conversations with MSU administrators since October 2015 regarding the annex and other diversity and inclusion efforts.
“But the university has wanted to talk about carpet and furniture selection,” Barkley added. “So I wonder how committed the university actually is to make this place of value, not just a place for PR.”
KSMU returned to the annex days after the open house where we encountered Rhowen Cramer, junior in communication. Cramer says she’s pleased with the comfort level the annex brings compared to its former location. However, she agrees that students were a big driver of the project.
According to Cramer, she along with Aryne Say and four other students, wrote the budget to get the resources they have now.
“Two months ago, the LGBTQ Resource center had nothing,” Cramer said. “It was just a name on a piece of paper the university got to wave around and say ‘hey look what we have!’ But we didn’t have any resource which was the whole point of a resource center.”
While students all agree that the annex is a good stepping stone, they feel more needs to be done by the administration.
“We still are low on resources, we still have no visibility, and this is more of an appearance thing,” Aryne Say, sophomore in nursing, said. “What we need is actually to have actions done, have ideally a whole building for multicultural programs instead of just an annex in a basement where no one knows where it’s at.”
Say continued, “I think that actually seeing that minorities need resources, that minorities need these organizations, and we need to work together. Because not everyone has only one specific minority they identify with, there are multiple things. So you cannot have your multicultural programs be separate from each other… The administration of multicultural programs, they need to see that working together for greater good is better than doing things individually.”
Brooks and Barkley would like the MRC to be removed from under the director of Student Affairs and into Diversity and Inclusion.
“As long as this is still under Student Affairs, as long as it’s still under specifically Juan Meraz, I really don’t know where else to go as far as down,” Brooks said.
The SCMA has been vocal in having Meraz, the assistant vice president of Multicultural Services, removed from his position. It has alleged, among other things, unethical leadership by Meraz. The assistant VP was disciplined in February following a review into his behavior. Details of those actions were not disclosed.
The Mary Jean Price Walls Multicultural Resource Center Annex is located inside the west entrance of Freudenberger House.