Cultural centers provide support, connection to increasingly diverse student population

The Cultural Resource Centers at Portland State are more than just spaces for students to gather. The centers are spaces for students to find refuge, to organize, study and yes, eat a snack or two.

“It’s a place for them to find community and work to find their academic selves and develop themselves as students and meaningful members of our community,” says Cynthia Gómez, Cultural Resource Centers executive director.

PSU has six centers on campus: La Casa Latina Student Center; Multicultural Student Center; Native American Student & Community Center; Pacific Islander, Asian & Asian American Student Center and Pan-African Commons. The newest center, the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia Initiative, is still in search of a physical space and is working out of the Multicultural Student Center for now.

Each of these centers was built from protest, Gómez says. Students demand and need spaces where they can do important work and organize, but also gather as a community in places where they “don’t have to leave any part of themselves behind at the door.”

These spaces are especially important at PSU, where the student population of color is up to 40%. Gómez says if you include the international student community, PSU is almost to a tipping point where there are more students of color on campus than any other group.

The centers are incredibly active as well. Last year, the centers hosted more than 120 events and saw more than 130,000 students access the spaces.

“When you come in here and you hang out and see how we operate day to day you see a space that really reflects the community of learners that we serve,” Gómez says. “The Cultural Resource Centers have great potential to broaden that conversation of what higher education is today and its potential in the future to really shape our communities.”

Video by Peter Simon
Story by Katy Swordfisk