This piece was produced for Badger Vibes, our partnership with the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.
Even though they can’t be fully “open” at the moment, two new cultural centers on the UW–Madison campus are looking to have an impact on students.
The Latinx Cultural Center and APIDA (Asian-Pacific Islander Desi American) Student Center opened in 2018 but had to shutter due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two new centers, located in the North Mezzanine of the Red Gym, are overseen by the Multicultural Student Center (MSC). Their opening comes after the MSC has successfully run the Black Cultural Center for several years.
The cultural centers have been able to meet their missions even without the in-person interaction, though.
“Even though the physical spaces are closed right now, we are actually still doing a lot of virtual programming that is happening from the centers, so I’m really excited about that,” says Karla Foster, assistant director of cultural programming at the MSC. “Each one of the centers held a new-student orientation for their respective populations where they were able to learn a little bit of the history of how the centers were presented. They were able to network with new incoming first-year [students], new incoming grad students, and things like that. They were able to learn about different faculty and staff of color on campus in relation to their identity center and some of the programming that the identity centers are coming up with throughout the remainder of the semester. We got a lot of positive feedback from the students that participated in those virtual programs.”
Foster says roughly 30 students participated in each of the virtual orientation programs of the Latinx and APIDA centers.
“It’s been very, very impactful for me. I really appreciate being able to connect with people that have had very similar experiences to me,” says Manola Inthavong x’23, who served on the committee to plan last year’s Asian American Heritage Month activities on campus. “It’s one thing just to have the whole Multicultural Student Center. Yeah, you can hang out with all of these different BIPOC students. But to really have that own space where you can talk about specifically Asian American struggles … a lot of our parents were immigrants to this country, and just being able to connect on being a first-generation American, but in a different sense to if you were Latinx and a first-generation American. It’s a different experience in some ways. And so I really appreciate having that place where we can all come together and talk about these things that matter to us.”
While virtual programming continues through the pandemic-disrupted academic year, the new cultural centers are still getting a few finishing touches.
“We are in the process of completing construction of the new spaces,” Foster says. “We tore down some walls, installed new carpeting, new furniture, and things like that. There’s still some minor pieces that still need to be done as far as signage and things like that. I’m super excited that we’ll officially be having a grand opening for both of these spaces. I’m really appreciative of the dedication that our upper administration has given the centers and really ask the community to continue to support the students and the centers themselves to support the students.”