Nov. 21-Dec. 4, 2003
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U.Va.’s New Diversity Center
A place of the people, by the people and for the people

By Jane Ford

Flexibility and openness will be hallmarks of the new Diversity Center scheduled to open in Newcomb Hall in February.

At a blueprint preview on Nov. 18, members of the University community had an opportunity to view drawings and concepts for the center. The plans call for transforming the Informal Lounge on the third floor of Newcomb Hall into a space where groups and individuals will be able to gain a better understanding of diverse cultures and the social, political and economic forces that play a role in shaping differences and commonalities in perspectives.

M. Bruce, head of the Minority Rights Coalition, has been involved in the project since the group proposed the creation of the center last year. She sees the space as empowering. The goal, she said, “is to create a unique space that is comfortable, challenging and welcoming to all members of the community. It will be a place that will help people define what diversity issues mean to them.”

A number of student groups are working on all aspects of the project, with support from various University offices.

A team of undergraduate architecture students designed the physical space under the leadership of graduate architecture student Benjamin Blanchard, who also designed the casework for the space.

Facilities Management provided technical oversight on the project.
Support for the center is coming from various sources, including the Class of 1996, which provided initial funding for a center to promote cultural fluency. Juliann Robey, a member of the class who is now a Darden student, said, “The center fits perfectly with what our vision was.”

Bill Ashby, associate dean of students and director of Newcomb Hall and student activities, described the space as intimate but also similar to a Greek forum where social and intellectual activities will take place.
Ashby emphasized that a conscious decision was made to handle all aspects of the Diversity Center in-house. From physical design to programming, initiatives have originated in the University community.

Planners are asking the community to submit ideas for programming that advance the center’s mission. They are looking to the University community to contribute performance and visual art — paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, poetry, prose, drama and short films — to be featured in the space. A naming contest also is under way. The Diversity Center is only a working title, said Bruce.

In addition to blueprints, planners presented samples of paint colors, floor coverings and fabrics at the blueprint preview. Three types of chairs that will be used in the space were available to try out. Plans also call for a 61-inch plasma screen that will accommodate various forms of programming. Every decision regarding the space reflects the center’s need to be flexible, said Ashby. Chairs are stackable or have wheels to allow for a variety of configurations to accommodate a wide range of activities.

Unveiling of the new center is expected to take place in February with a creative extravaganza. The project is a partnership that includes support from the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Student Council, the Minority Rights Coalition, the University Programs Council, the Office of African American Affairs, International Studies, the Office of Student Life, Newcomb Hall, the University Bookstore and the Class of 1996.

Students, faculty and staff may submit programming or naming suggestions at or by e-mailing


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