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An open letter to Duke University administration regarding Student Affairs space in the Bryan Center

letter to the editor

An Open Letter to Duke University Administration Regarding Student Affairs Space in the Bryan Center

For decades, multicultural student organizations and marginalized student communities have been pushing for Duke University to recognize, respect, and fulfill our needs regarding physical space to create healthy and connected communities of students of color and marginalized students on campus.

As such, we are unequivocally disappointed and frustrated to hear that the Duke administration has promised the Student Affairs office in the Bryan Center that Vice Provost Mary Pat McMahon and her team will be vacating in December to the Career Center. They made these promises without student input and behind student groups’ backs, even though they had promised this space to multiple organizations, and many student groups have repeatedly communicated their space needs to administration. They made this deal behind closed doors, without student input, despite previously promising the space to multiple student groups who have been demanding more space for decades.

Asian students, Latinx students, Black students, Indigenous students and students with disabilities have all released demands including improved cultural spaces on campus in the past five years. Moreover, these demands are decades old, dating back to at least the 1990s with Spectrum, a multicultural student coalition, making multiple demands and proposals for a multicultural student center. Marginalized students have been sidelined and ignored by Duke. Multiple student organizations have raised the issues of the spatial politics of the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) being located in the basement of the Bryan Center and the constant promises of inadequate spaces being “temporary.” These spaces are often inaccessible to students with certain disabilities and invisible from the larger student body.

As students and student organizations, we have consistently done our part to reach out to VP McMahon and other members of Duke University’s administration to express and address our concerns. Nonetheless, the agreement between VP McMahon and the Career Center was made without any feedback from us, despite having previously promised the space to groups such as the Hindu Student Association and Duke Disability Alliance. While we acknowledge that the Career Center provides necessary services to the student body, the Career Center’s services are largely remote. Student organizations have regularly struggled with inadequate space for events, meetings, and programming, and as such need this space much more urgently. We were only informed of the decision to move the Career Center into the Bryan Center when members of the Duke Student Government learned Student Affairs and the Career Center privately arranged move-in dates and even furniture plans for the space since at least the summer of this year. Furthermore, according to a survey run by Duke Student Government asking all undergraduate students what their preference for dedication of the space is, only 63 of 447 respondents, or 14% of votes were for the Career Center, while 233 of 447 votes, or 52% of votes were for some version of a identity, cultural, or religious center.

Currently, Duke administration relegates a majority of multicultural student organizations, if even assigned a space on campus, to the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) in the bottom floor of the Bryan Center, making it inaccessible to students with certain disabilities and hidden from the larger student body. This space is deeply inadequate, and we demand that the Duke Administration rectify this move with the needs of marginalized student communities in mind. We are tired of being continuously misled and deceived by administration's empty promises. We demand that Duke Administration not view marginalized students as an afterthought. Although opening up the current Student Affairs office space for use by marginalized students and communities is only one of many transitional and temporary steps towards dedicated and permanent multicultural centers on campus, marginalized students on this campus today need improved multicultural centers today.

The Bryan Center is a center for students, and as such, student voices and agency should be at the forefront of how this space is utilized.

We are here, and we demand to be heard.

Signed,

Asian American Alliance

Asian American Studies Working Group

Asian Students Association

Mi Gente

Mobilizing Asian Students Together

Duke Student Government Executive Board

Duke Diya (South Asian Students’ Association)

Southeast Asian Student Association (ASEAN)

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