Spurred by campus issues and the impact of Proposition 187, a coalition of diverse groups led by Chicano and Latino students demonstrated and marched on the vice president’s office seeking a greater voice two decades ago.
That protest opened the door to regular meetings with university administrators to address the needs of underrepresented students. This became a turning point in relations with underrepresented students, and the six Cultural Centers were established.
Since then, the Cultural Centers have negotiated the economic uncertainty of recessions and changing demographics, and will celebrate their 20th anniversary on May 7.
“Our university celebrates diversity as one of its strengths,” says La’Keisha Beard, acting director of the Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers. “It’s very important for the campus to embrace the Cultural Centers and celebrate the work that they’ve done. The work is tied into the university’s mission.”
To celebrate the anniversary and diversity, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas will give the keynote address on May 7 from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Bronco Student Center, Ursa Major.
Vargas is seen as the embodiment of many aspects of the Cultural Centers because of his cultural and social identities. “Lived experiences are extremely important. It is innately interwoven into what the centers represent in terms of identity, intersectionality, inclusivity,” says Lorena Márquez, coordinator of the César E. Chávez Center for Higher Education.
A reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. at University Plaza, Building 26. There will be a meet and greet following Vargas’ keynote in the University Plaza where he will sign posters. Japanese taiko drummers from a student club on campus, a Native American blessing by a Cal Poly Pomona student and African American dancers are scheduled Musical guests Las Cafeteras also will perform to mark the anniversary.
“The work that we do in the Cultural Centers isn’t just about specific cultures, but it’s about creating community through inclusivity and creating awareness of multiple identities,” Márquez says.
The African American Student Center, the Asian & Pacific Islander Student Center, the César E. Chávez Center for Higher Education, the Native American Student Center, the Pride Center and the Violence Prevention & Women’s Resource Center comprise the Cultural Centers.
Some of the engagement opportunities offered annually by the Cultural Centers include the Cross-Cultural Retreat on campus, the African American Student Center’s Diversity Ambassador program, the Asian American Transnational Educational enrichment program, the Chávez center’s Dia de los Muertos event, the Native American Student Center’s high school pipeline program, outreach to high schools and middle schools regarding college access, and Safe Zone Ally training provided by the Pride Center.
“Our model is unique. Most campuses don’t have individual cultural centers,” Beard says.
The anniversary celebration and activities are free and open to the public.