At their core, multicultural centers are made to provide a wide range of resources to specific groups of students. Most of the groups are historically marginalized or discriminated against: people of color, such as indigenous students, black students and asian students. Safe spaces can be either physical or symbolic, according to research from the University of Cincinnati. Regardless of type, these spaces allow students to build community and a collective identity.
By providing a space for students to express themselves openly without hostility or rejection, multicultural centers foster a community with resources for issues such as homesickness, international travel and immigration plans, and even discrimination on and off campus. More specifically, sometimes students of color make the deliberate choice to physically separate themselves from the main community on college campuses, or need specific resources for problems only they face.
The University of Maine benefits from the presence of the Office of Multicultural Student Life, and any funding that goes into the office is crucial to the events, programs and workshops it regularly sponsors, hosts and facilitates along with other UMaine community members and groups. When students of color experience feelings of isolation, for example, they turn to the multicultural office for engagement with other people of color and for participation in multicultural student organization.
Being a rural college campus, multicultural centers are also crucial for exposure and education of a predominantly white student body and staff. Multicultural student groups work with the multicultural office non-stop throughout the year to organize and promote culture events, such as the annual Multicultural Thanksgiving and a weekly International Coffee Hour. Multicultural and diversity groups often promote month-long event calendars, such as February featuring coordinated Black History Month events scheduled every day month-long. The 2010 U.S. Census reports that Maine is 94.8 percent white, and while the UMaine campus may be more diverse thanks to our flourishing international and out-of-state outreach programs, our campus still has much to gain from diversity and multicultural programs.
Events that celebrate culture and educate others on heritage help both white students and students of color to thrive despite a largely disproportional student body. Such events also invite community members, faculty and staff to broaden their perspectives and learn about others. The students involved in event coordination learn valuable leadership and communication skills and earn professional experience. Most importantly, multicultural events make students feel valued, welcomed in their communities and protected against feelings of isolation. The bonds formed within multicultural groups are often bonds for life.
Student retention is another key role of multicultural centers on college campuses. The programming and resources provided by multicultural centers, as well as the safe space they help students adjust to normal academic challenges. Access points, such as the Office of Multicultural Student Life, allows all students to develop deeper links with figures within the university and its community. Universities themselves are conduits for student disconnectedness. With larger class sizes, higher teacher-student ratios and the extensive use of online learning materials, UMaine must do everything in its power to fight for the needs of its students and provide access points for resources and counsel.