Fostering Inclusion: Trotter Multicultural Center

In 2016, as the U-M DEI Strategic Plan was being launched, campus leaders announced that a new multicultural center would be built in the heart of campus. The new facility would reimagine the existing multicultural center and place it in a more prominent and accessible location on campus.

Inspired by the activism of the U-M Black Student Union, the new U-M Trotter Multicultural Center (named for William Monroe Trotter, an advocate for racial justice in the early 20th century America) was envisioned as a venue for student programs and activities that develop cultural learning and skills for collaborative engagement.

In addition to providing event and meeting space for student organizations, the center would offer educational and support programs as well as opportunities for all students to explore heritage and cultural traditions.

A national search for a center director was launched when construction began, resulting in the appointment of a center director in summer 2018. The new center opened with a series of celebratory events in the spring of 2019.

Today, the vision continues to evolve for this innovative multicultural center that strives to embody inclusion and provide a wellspring of support and engagement for diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

As a national leader in promoting an inclusive campus climate, the Trotter Multicultural Center serves as a campus facilitator, convener, and coordinator of intercultural engagement  and inclusive leadership education initiatives for U-M students.

As an iconic symbol for all students, and as an open and inclusive facility that fosters intercultural engagement and strengthens connections between and among communities, the center functions as a supportive home for those committed to social justice and diversity, and as a space that celebrates both the activism of students and its own history and tradition. 

The center’s goals and objectives are both broad and specific. They include:

  • Fostering and promoting a more inclusive campus environment

  • Working with partners in Student Life and across campus, with students and their organizations, and with external partners to assure optimal use of the space for program development, event planning, and other activities

  • Making a broader impact across campus through partnerships, engagement, and value-added initiatives

  • Sharing best practices with multicultural centers at other institutions

Students are the primary focus and most important stakeholders for the Trotter Multicultural Center. Individuals engaged in the student activism that helped shape the vision and build support for the new center were key collaborators—providing input on building design, furniture and decor, and plans for the grand opening.

Guidance was also provided by the Trotter Faculty, Staff and Alumni Advisory Board, the Trotter History Project team, and two DEI Student Advisory Boards (undergraduate and graduate). These groups continue to advise both Trotter and university leadership on the center’s priorities, programs, and policies.

Planning:

Gaining approvals and breaking ground for a new multicultural center on campus was a multi-year process that ebbed and flowed, and one that required both patience and persistence.

The process gained momentum through student activism, with support from the Provost, years before the launch of the current DEI Strategic Plan. However, by focusing attention on campus climate, the DEI plan strengthened the call for a new multicultural center building.

During the 2017-18 academic year, the university’s Vice President for Student Life convened an advisory committee consisting of students, staff, faculty, alumni and administrators from across the university to help guide the national search for a new director, who was appointed in July of 2018.

To help lay the groundwork for future efforts and new leadership, a cross-unit team of stakeholders conducted an inventory of current offerings along with a benchmark study of best-practice programs devoted to cultural awareness, well-being, agency, self direction, heritage and cultural traditions.

Based on their findings, the team provided recommendations for the incoming director. Another cross-unit team of stakeholders conducted a benchmark study of programs for intercultural engagement, and produced a report that included a proposed Roadmap to Implementation for the new director’s consideration.

The new Trotter Multicultural Center Director supervised the interior design process in consultation with students and advisory groups. Based on prior recommendations and ideas, program planning continued through an iterative process that continued to focus on student needs first and foremost.

Another aspect of planning required identifying potential partners and creating a foundation for current and future collaborations. Building partnerships in the early stages of the launch was an intentional and strategic way of generating interest in and utilization of the center and its success.

This approach drew on a hybrid of partnership and community development models, with a focus on bringing smaller groups together and helping them create synergy and collective action.

Implementation:

The opening of the new Trotter Multicultural Center in April 2019 was a widely anticipated event on campus, and was met with great enthusiasm. This high level of interest has resulted in immediate, active use of the facility by students, staff, and faculty members alike.

The center is open to the entire campus community, with several areas available for informal conversation or individual use. A variety of spaces can be reserved by student groups and university departments for meetings, events, conferences, workshops or retreats.

Current educational programming includes cultural awareness workshops for individuals and groups, inclusive student leadership development, intercultural learning supported by the Intercultural Development Inventory tool as well as other intercultural learning assessment tools, an Interfaith Program, and the Trotter Distinguished Leadership Series—which features notable speakers and fosters healthy discourse and learning on diverse topics of interest to the campus community.

Cultural Heritage Months at the center is celebrated through activities that explore diverse arts, music, and food along with live performances, organized, and presented primarily by students.

In addition to the director, center staffing includes an associate director; a lead for interfaith and multicultural engagement;  an office manager; program managers; and an intercultural learning and innovation specialist.

Rounding out the staff is a team of student staff members who not only help keep overall staffing costs manageable but also contribute an essential student perspective on operations and enable the center to extend its operating hours late into the evening on multiple days each week.

Overall, the new Center sets a high standard for multipurpose facilities and innovative programming. It supports diversity, equity, and inclusion while demonstrating the potential for student and university leaders to come together and make change happen for the benefit of all.

The center is already being heavily used – an early indicator of success. The immediate goal now is to evaluate the impact of its educational programs and activities, and collect narratives from people who use the center.

Evaluation tools and protocols are being implemented to capture participation data, assess learning outcomes for educational programming, and solicit “personal impact stories.”

In addition, program participation and use of the facility will be tracked and evaluated across hours of the day and by weeks and months, categorized by students, staff, and faculty, as well as by departments, units, and student groups.

Surveys and focus groups will assess the emerging needs and interests of those using the facility, as well as the needs and interests of groups who are unaware of or underutilizing the Center.

The data generated by these efforts will be used to inform decisions relating to new services and programs as well as adjustments to current facility policies and practices.

  • As a first, essential step, evaluate the situation and context of your campus climate and needs of students. Is a new multicultural center part of a DEI initiative? What is the anticipated scale and scope of the project? How will you build support among university leadership? What do students really need and want? These are some of the key questions and issues that will help you determine a path forward.

  • Assess the potential for resources and support. Work with groups that are asking for new or renovated spaces. Talk with people connected to resources and fundraising. Initiate conversations earlier rather than later.

  • Take a student-centered approach from the very start. Involve students in every phase of the process: support, space design, programming plans, and decisions relating to facility access and utilization.

  • Seek broad input for decisions from key stakeholder groups – alumni, faculty, staff, and students. This takes longer but pays off in terms of relationship building and better decision-making.

  • Look to residence halls, student unions, and other campus units that offer facilities and programming for ideas on facility policies and practices.

  • Meeting the needs of so many different groups and constituents is a difficult challenge. Building strong advisory groups and continuing to listen and learn from them is key.

  • Don’t overlook alumni. Seek their input and engage them—not only for fundraising but for feedback, concepts, and ongoing project development.

  • When it comes to choosing the director of your campus multicultural center, select someone with the education and experience to provide both vision and strong leadership. In addition to managing staff and operations, this person will need to represent the center, and the university, with campus leaders, community representatives, and potential donors.

 

  • Supplemental information on this initiative? (web links, documents, models, charts, etc.) Trotter Multicultural Center Website: https://trotter.umich.edu/

  • Recommended resources for additional guidance? (books, training, web sites, reports, etc.)



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