The Diversity and Equity Center: A history of cultural welcome
Kaitlin Cunningham, Staff Writer
The Diversity and Equity Center (DEC), is located on the second floor of Harned Hall on the Saint Martin’s campus. The furnishings of the center consist of a table, some chairs, and a whiteboard with fun drawings or sayings left by students. Art created by members of the DEC adorns the walls, and a room in the back serves as the office for the Director of Diversity and Equity, John Hopkins, Ph.D.
The DEC sprouted from a need to represent the diverse student body and their many varied cultures.
During its brief time on campus, the DEC has changed a lot. It first opened its doors in 2017, as a place where students could learn about, and connect with others from different backgrounds and identities.
In an interview, Hopkins spoke a little about his journey with the center beginning in 2006, when his title was Director of Cultural Initiatives. “Somewhere around 2011, I moved to the Associate Dean level and my title was the Director of service and Diversity Initiatives,” said Hopkins. “… the DEC really came about as the students on campus needed a place to share their cultures and feel safe.”
The most prominent program provided by the DEC is the African-American/Black, Hispanix/Latinx, Asain-Pacific Islander, Native American (AHANA) Connections orientation session, which can be found through the Saint Martin’s website. The purpose of the orientation is to ease the college transition for students of color. This is done by helping them form connections in the community and feel at home on campus.
“One purpose of the DEC is to be a place where students who are underrepresented can come make and find community,” said Hopkins.
With 59 percent of Saint Martin’s students identifying as ethnically diverse, there is certainly a need for spaces where students can form cultural connections. The DEC aims to be that space by serving as a common area for all, but specifically those who may be transfer or foreign exchange students, or those who come from multicultural home environments.
As a place where students can gather and create community, the DEC exemplifies some of the key Benedictine values that Saint Martin’s strives to achieve. Hopkins emphasized that the center is intended to be a safe space for all groups of students, and that he strives to provide that open environment in which students can interact with one another in a fun and relaxed way.