Inclusivity reigns with opening of two new cultural centers

On Nov. 2, Portland State celebrated the grand opening of two new Cultural Resource Centers: the Pan-African Commons and the Pacific Islander, Asian & Asian American Student Center. Hosted in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom, the event focused on inclusivity and identity for international and minority students.

The ballroom was crowded with excited students and faculty. The night consisted of several keynote speakers, including Professor Judy BlueHorse Skelton, a senior instructor of indigenous nations studies. She prayed for good energy and gave thanks for the opening of the new centers.

Other keynote speakers included Vice President of Global Diversity and Inclusion Carmen Suarez, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Cultural Resource Centers Cynthia Gomez and PSU President Wim Wiewel. An American Sign Language interpreter accompanied each speaker.

Shanice Clarke, program coordinator for Pan-African Commons, believes the new centers will help the inclusivity of PSU.

“The momentous additions of the [PIAAA] Student Center and Pan-African Commons will be a formative transition for PSU students,” Clarke said. “Students who identify with the center will have a place to unapologetically be themselves and have their identities affirmed and embraced in their learning experiences as PSU students.”

The Pacific Islanders Scholar Band performed “E Papa Waiari” and “Ku’u Aloha.” The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. also performed, clapping beats in name the of the new centers and the upcoming election.

Clarke also believes that the expanding cultural centers will help with the isolation some students of color might feel on campus. “We will gain a dedicated area to give resources, programs and advocacy to support the retention of students,” she said.

At these centers, students will be able to develop their identity within their own culture—a home away from home. “The Cultural Resource Centers carry a value for social justice, and we aim to be critical of the contexts and environments in which we navigate in our own cultures,” Clarke said.

Makerusa Porotesano, program coordinator for the PIAAA Center, commented on the naming process of the new resource centers. “I think the simplicity and inclusiveness of the names were attractive to a lot of students,” Porotesano said. “We had a lot of creative names to choose from, with the variety of cultures, languages, and geographical differences in our communities. I think making sure everyone was included was most important.”

Porotesano believes the centers will help students further develop their identities and feel comfortable in their own space. “Every center has something unique to offer, but we all have the same learning goals. People who use our centers will learn the different ways we offer community space, service and relationships.”

Those interested in joining either center can email [email protected]. The Pan-African Commons is currently open and located in SMSU 236. The PIAAA Center will open in November in SMSU 235.