Drivers approaching Wingate from the Monroe Expressway will see one of the University’s newest signs of welcome along North Main Street – the sign identifying the newly established Unity House Multicultural Center.
Initially known as Watson House (former owner L.J. Watson was a longtime local postal worker who encouraged many students to attend Wingate), the structure just north of the Levine College of Health Sciences has been used for a variety of offices over the years, including Campus Safety and New Student Orientation.
This summer, Dr. Antonio Jefferson, director of Lyceum and multicultural programming, moved his office into the upfitted house and began reimagining the space as a haven for underrepresented students, a place for them to get cultural and personal support and to develop their leadership skills. In addition to students of color and LGBTQ+ students, he hopes the center will reach indigenous students, religious minorities, students of different abilities, first-generation students, and students from low-income families.
The goals align perfectly with those of the University’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, a nine-member workgroup named in June that includes faculty, staff and students.
Iyanna Salters, president of the Black Student Union and a member of the Council, says the Multicultural House will meet a need.
“Wingate needs the Unity House to continue the push into a new image of what universities around the country should look like, a better representation of the diverse world we live in,” Salters says. “Currently on our campus, students are missing a safe space where they can be free to express themselves and a place of comfort outside their dorms but in their community as well.”
Tatianna Onley, BSU’s vice president, says the space will benefit the entire campus.
“I want this Unity House to give students a place to be themselves around people that understand what it is like to be a minority,” says Onley, who also serves as a student representative of the WU Retention Program. “The campus will benefit from this because all students would feel welcomed, which would result in a higher retention rate.”
Junior biology major Rania Badran says the multicultural center is overdue.
“Being at a predominantly white university, it is important for minority students to have a safe space, hold their organization meetings, show their cultures, and to share any concerns they may have,” Badran says. “After becoming president of the Muslim Students Association, I have been asking for a multicultural center and an interfaith prayer space on campus.”
Badran envisions the center as “a good hangout and study space for everyone.”
The building has a kitchen, so students can cook food for events, and offers plenty of meeting and study space. And it has a large parking lot that is perfect for barbecues, team-building exercises and other gatherings.
Jefferson is planning cultural-heritage months, peer mentoring programs and a program to help students sidestep the “sophomore slump,” all of which would be hosted by Unity House. He also plans to develop a group of diversity peer educators, who will provide training to registered student organizations, Gateway classes, resident assistants and other groups that request it.
“Right now with social distancing rules in place, Unity House is closing at 5 p.m., but eventually we’ll be open in the evenings,” he says. “And we’re already looking at blueprints to one day build on to add another classroom and an additional restroom on the back side.”
Unity House, with some but not all furnishings and decor in place, is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more details, email Jefferson.
Sept. 14, 2020