Santos Nunez loves the variety of students that walk into Kansas University's Multicultural Resource Center.
"We have students of every background, with different colors of hair and piercings. Some of them, you can't tell their gender," said Nunez, the center's director. "But that doesn't matter -- because they're all welcome here. This is a safe space for people to come in and just be who they are."
But Nunez worries that the resource center isn't as welcoming as it could be. It's in the southwest part of campus, doesn't have adequate parking, is too small to play host to events larger than a couple dozen people and doesn't have central air conditioning.
That soon could change. Thanks to a student-led effort, a new resource center adjacent to the Kansas Union should be completed by fall 2005.
"We feel it would send a strong message to students that the university believes in diversity," Nunez said.
The resource center, founded in 1995, presents diversity training for campus organizations, helps organize events such as Hispanic Heritage Month and provides resources on diversity issues.
Jonathan Ng, the 2002-2003 student body president, spearheaded an effort to build the new building. After months of discussions on the best location for the building, student leaders and university officials determined an addition on the north end of the Kansas Union, lining up with the union's fourth and fifth floors, would be best.
Though design has yet to begin, Nunez said the space would include classrooms, resource space such as a computer lab and a student lounge.
"It's going to be a high-visibility location," she said.
Nunez said the building would allow her staff to serve more students. The resource center also may add a full-time staff member. Currently, Nunez is the only full-time staff member, with one or two graduate assistants and about five student assistants hired to work part-time each year.
The building will cost an estimated $3 million. Student Senate last year approved a $3.50-per-semester student fee that will generate about $1.5 million between this fall and 2014.
The rest will be paid for in private funds. Andy Knopp, student body president, said a primary donor planned to give at least $1 million to the project.
By university standards, planning for the new resource center is moving quickly. Just a year after it was proposed, the funding is nearly in place and design is about to begin.
"We're pleased and surprised," said Catherine Bell, student body vice president. "It was our goal to move forward, but we didn't know it would be this fast."
Knopp said the new building would send a clear message to current and prospective students: that KU respects diversity on campus. The current resource center, which is housed in a temporary building that formerly was a military science annex, doesn't send that message, he said.
"The building is inadequate for pushing the need for multicultural education and celebrating diversity on campus," he said. "Part of it is symbolic -- putting action behind words when it comes to multicultural recruiting."
-- Staff writer Terry Rombeck can be reached