San Diego –- Last Friday, San Diego State University unveiled its new state-of-the-art Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the conclusion of a project that has been in the works since 2010. Designed as a LEED Platinum building, the new student union provides a “safe zone where students can come to just be,” according to Dr. Tanis King Starck, program director of the Center for Intercultural Relations.
“Students felt that SDSU needed a place where their cultural identities could be acknowledged,” said Starck. She noted that the mantra of the new center needed to include the integration of many cultures and do more than just offer ethnically-themed celebrations once a month. “All of us need to experience the richness of cultures that make up this campus and get to know more about our own cultures,” she said.
Named after Conrad Prebys who gifted $20 million to SDSU for student scholarships, the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union offers amenities and services, such as dining, retail, lounges, meeting rooms, a multi-purpose Montezuma Hall, 300-seat theater, outdoor courtyards, bowling and a fitness center.
The intercultural center, which is now located in the new Aztec student union, was launched in 2003 and resided in the old student union. Starck, who has led the center since 2007, previously served as the first Upward Bound Director and Student Support Services Director at Tulane University in New Orleans, La. She came to San Diego after having to evacuate the Crescent City due to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
In her book, Her Name is Katrina: Life After the Storm, Starck documented the evacuation processes and the exposure of racism as a social construct throughout the nation. “The water polarized what we as black people and New Orleans residents already knew was going on…; social injustice, inequality [and a ] lack of willingness to change what’s going on,” said Starck.
Starck drew from the inequality, cultural and systemic issues that Katrina exposed to formulate the mission of the SDSU Intercultural Center. “It is OK to have differences, but there are some core commonalities that we can share across cultures that bring people together,” she said.
Starck created the first Certificate in Cultural Competency for SDSU, which has been adopted at other California State University campuses. It is a three-semester program for anyone who leads a student organization or holds a position in which students are supervised. Students are confronted with questions such as ‘What is cultural awareness? How do I build it? How do you see the world? What is intersectionality?’
“The center provides a place to have these dialogues,” said Starck.
The Intercultural Relations Center acknowledges that many students are culturally incompetent, and helps them to understand why. Campus climate surveys, queer people of color conferences and various lecture series are commonplace for the center, which boasts many multicultural resources on the African Diaspora, LGBT community and women’s issues.
The Center for Intercultural Relations aims to conduct research and implement unique programs that promote and appreciate cultural diversity and comprehension of cross-cultural dynamics. At the end of the month, the Cultural Competency Certificate program students will spend a week in New Orleans to learn about the multicultural history of the city and experience the rebuilding process of what Katrina left behind eight years ago.
Working in conjunction with a number of university departments, colleges and campus organizations, the center through cultural sensitivity can address recruitment, orientation, retention and graduation at SDSU. For more information on the Center for Intercultural Relations and the work of Dr. Tanis King Stark, visit http://go.sdsu.edu/student_affairs/intercultural/.
Jamal E. Mazyck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @jmbeyond7.