U.Va.’s New Diversity Center
A place of the people, by the people and for
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
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
or by e-mailing email@example.com.