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November 12, 2014 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-11-12

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6B Wednesday November12, 2014 // The Statement
Redefining a space: Trotter hopes to expand its community
by Sam Gringlas

In a darkened basement on Washtenaw
Avenue, half a dozen students gathered
Nov. 7 to watch old episodes of "Scandal"
over Coldstone ice cream and waffle cones.
- m Attendance was slimmer than the previous
week's event. On Halloween, a few dozen peo-
ple crowded the Trotter Multicultural Center
for an afternoon showing of the film "Hocus
Pocus." That group was so large the hot soup
bar ran out early.
With new programming and advisory
boards, formed under the leadership of
recently appointed Trotter director Jackie
Simpson, the center is hosting a full lineup
of its own programming for the first time in
Trotter previously served largely as a facil-
ity that student cultural groups, such as the
Michigan Gospel Choir or the Michigan Sah-
ana, used for their own practice or meeting
space. But apart from a 72-hour study break
during finals, Trotter lacked a unifying pro-
gram schedule to directly facilitate interac-
tions between communities of different racial
or ethnic identities.
Many students and Trotter staff say weekly
programming represents a broader shift in
vision for the role the center should play on
the University's campus.
Jessica Thompson, Trotter operations and
events coordinator, said the center is trying to
ado a better job engaging a wide cross-section
of the University community.
"We've got to encourage community, but
we can't just say it," she said. "We've got to be
about it and we have to teach what commu-
nity looks like."
School of Social Work student Charisma
Hoskins, a member of Trotter's programming
board, said she noticed a significant number
of new people to Trotter at last month's Hal-
loween event.
"It gives them the feel that this is an open
space for everybody and everyone's wel-
come," she said.
Founded in 1971, the Trotter Multicultural

some of Trotter's current challenges, but for
now, the center is still grappling with how to
raise awareness about its re-envisioned pro-
gramming mission.
Green said that for many people, particu-
larly white students, Trotter is perceived as a
place primarily meant for people of color. He
said that's just not true.
"Everyone is part of the multicultural-ness,
if you're white, if you're Black, if you're Native
American," he said.
Thompson said there has been a lack of
awareness of Trotter's offerings and the staff
has to do a better job reintroducing the facil-
ity to campus.
"We can'tjust sit right here and expect
folks to come," she said. "We have to go out
and get you."
Many of Trotter's leaders recognize the
potential for increased education about the
center's programs, but Green said the Univer-
sity has failed to introduce incomingstudents
to Trotter's offerings, particularly during
freshman orientation.
"I don't think the University has done
enough. If you talk about diversity and stu-
dent life, it should be the first thing that stu-
dents know."
Though Trotter may not be the most rec-
ognizable building on campus, especially in
comparison to iconic structures like Angell
Hall or Hill Auditorium, it has garnered
increased attention in recent months.
During a year when several incidents, fol-
lowed by a series of protests led by the BSU,
catapulted issues of diversity, identity, race
and inclusion to the forefront of campus con-
versation, Trotter emerged as a key piece of
the dialogue.
Since last year, the University spent
$650,000 to renovate the current facility and
an advisory team has begun meeting with
architects to plan for a new space in the next
three to five years.
And though Green said Trotter should
have a voice at the table, it can't be the only

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Jessica Thompson, Trotter operations and events coordinator, at the Trotter Multicultural Center.

nities its designed to serve.
"I'm sure that at one pointor even now, this
may have felt like a members-only space and it
is so not that," Thompson said. "This is a space
for all of our students ... But for those students
who aren't looking for that, who don't need
that, how do we also support them?"
Simpson, who led the University's Spec-
trum Center before taking the helm at Trot-
ter over the summer, said it's not unnatural
for students to crave a space designated for
people with identities similar to their own.
"If I spend all day in a primarily hetero-
sexual world, well when I go home to relax,
I don't necessarily want to spend my relaxing
time in spaces where I don't know whether
people are going to accept me," she said. "I'm
going to naturallyflow to places where I think

Campus location in the next five years could
exasperate this challenge. Though the Uni-
versity's Black Student Union called for a
Trotter that's closer to campus - a demand
the University has preliminarily agreed to -
the center's off-the-beaten-path location has
shaped the facility asa destination spot.
The current distance from campus means
it is less likely that passersby will stop in to
explore. That reality has resulted in a space
that's feels homey and safe for students who
frequent the facility, but also a space that is
not well known or widely used by the general
student population.
Though a more constant flow of students
into a Central Campus location might make it
difficult to maintain Trotter's atmosphere of
refuge, Simpson said the benefits of increased;

"I would say that we have a responsibility to the changing society ... and racism and
sexism do not have to define the future. I want to see a world where people feel free to
think and love and socialize as equals, and people feel safe to be themselves. I think that
definitely we've seen the society and the campus get closer to that every time we have
fought for human rights and civil rights and immigrant rights."

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