Multicultural Center celebrates 25 years

Portland State’s Multicultural Student Center, a busy gathering spot where PSU’s diverse student body can mingle with students of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds, celebrated its 25th anniversary in February.
The event serves as a reminder of the monumental changes that have occurred at PSU over the last quarter century. In 1993, diverse students accounted for about 10 percent of the student body. Today, it’s closer to 40 percent.

The Multicultural Student Center started in a basement room formerly used as faculty lounge. Since then it moved to a spacious, art-filled area on Smith Memorial Student Union’s second floor, and is visited by close to 400 students a day. It spawned the formation of the University’s other cultural centers: La Casa Latina Student Center; Pacific Islander, Asian and Asian American Student Center; and Pan-African Commons. The Native American Student and Community Center also was founded during this period. PSU eventually became the most diverse university in Oregon.

Judith Ramaley, a distinguished professor of public service, who was president of PSU in the ‘90s when the center was founded, recalls the atmosphere at the university at the time.

“We were not yet measurably diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, but we were becoming so,” she said. “It became clear that with our mode of operating at the time, many people were starting to feel that this was not their university.”

Finding a designated space where diverse students could gather was no easy task (PSU’s footprint was a lot smaller in those days), but it was a first step in creating the diverse campus we have today. The trend continues to grow. A goal within the next five years is to establish a center for Middle East and North African (MENA) students, according to Cynthia Gomez, director of cultural centers. 

"I’ve heard from students that if it wasn’t for the cultural centers, they wouldn’t be here,” said Gomez. “It’s like a living room. They can bring their full selves here and not feel like they have to leave any part of themselves at the door.”

In addition to being a place where students can relax, study and socialize, the Multicultural Center has a computer lab and a host of cultural programs. The centers also offer informational resources on various student needs, including financial aid.

-- John Kirkland

Photos: (Top) students celebrate during the Multicultural Student Center's (MCC) 25th Anniversary, Feb. 20, 2018. (Bottom) One of several murals displayed on the walls of the MCC.