Kansas University officials and students hope a new facility will help forge ties between the many cultures represented on campus.
Spurred by a string of racist incidents on campus in the past five years, Kansas University officials celebrated the opening Wednesday of a Multicultural Resource Center that they hope will become the centerpiece of a more harmonious academy.
KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway did not attend the center's grand opening, but other top university officials took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"This truly is an important day in the history of the university," Executive Vice Chancellor Ed Meyen said. "It will enhance our cultures, it will enhance the community in which we live. ... It belongs to no one; it belongs to all of us."
Hemenway couldn't attend because of a meeting in Kansas City, said Tom Hutton, a university spokesman. Hutton did not know the nature of the meeting.
The center was first proposed in 1991, when the student senate passed a resolution calling for its construction. A year earlier, racial tensions at KU intensified after a black sophomore was struck and received racial insults when she delivered pizzas to a fraternity house.
About 75 percent of KU's 26,000 students are white.
"They've needed (the multicultural center) for a long time," said Naeemah Coleman, 20, a junior from Kansas City, Kan., majoring in English and advertising.
"Seeing as the student body is mostly white, and most of them don't know anything about other races while we're forced to learn about them, hopefully some of them will learn about our culture instead of believing everything that's thrown at them on TV," said Coleman, who is black.
Even after David Ambler, vice chancellor for student affairs, announced plans for the multicultural center in the spring of 1993, periodic incidents served to remind school officials of its need:
- In December 1993, a swastika was drawn on a student's "Happy Hanukkah" sign at Naismith Hall.
- In October 1994, racial slurs were written on a campus apartment door of two KU football players.
Ambler said Wednesday that he hoped the new center would enhance campuswide efforts to break down ethnic and racial barriers.
The center has meeting rooms, a small library with books and video tapes, a 40-seat lecture room and a computer lab. The student senate has agreed to provide $20,000 a year for its support. The university's Office of Minority Affairs will provide additional funds.
"I don't know how much students will use it, but I think it makes a good statement for the university to be promoting multiculturalism," said Rina Bansal, a graduate student in cell biology from Chandigarh, India, and president of the KU Cultural India Club. "They're making a good point that it's not just for ethnic groups. It's for everyone: blacks, whites, everyone."