Intercultural Center celebrates past, present and future
For years, no one at Brandeis had the complete picture of how the Intercultural Center (ICC) came to be.
But that changed last fall when ICC director Madeleine Lopez discovered that the center, an on-campus space where students of diverse cultures and backgrounds connect and learn from one another, is actually celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“It’s been an interesting journey,” said Lopez. “I am trained as a historian and when I first stumbled across documents about how students created the ICC, I learned that we were supposed to be celebrating a 25-year anniversary this year.
“But I also found out the students’ original vision for the ICC,” Lopez added. “An array of culturally and ethnically diverse students finally saw the dream of an Intercultural Center realized. Their aim was to educate the Brandeis community about the cultures of people of color and to establish a central place on campus for all people to explore, share, and honor each others' cultural heritages."
In 1992, 31 students officially secured a space for the ICC in Swig Hall with support from faculty and the university administration, although efforts to build an intercultural center date farther back in Brandeis history. At the time of its founding, 11 clubs and organizations fit beneath the ICC umbrella, but five more have been added since that represent various cultures and traditions from around the globe.
The center officially opened its doors on March 4, 1992. A celebration took place that day themed, “A Vision Realized,” in recognition of the hard work done by the founding leaders, also known as the Push Committee, to secure a space for the ICC. Janice Johnson Dias ’94, now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a community organizer, served as Brandeis Student Union President and was on the Push Committee. She will return to campus on April 28 to give the keynote speech for the 25th anniversary celebration and talk about what it was like to be part of the effort to create the ICC.
“We called on the university to not have us be in a corner somewhere, but have a dedicated space with staffing, resource support and a library,” said Johnson, who was born in Jamaica but moved to Boston before attending Brandeis. “The big charge was for us to be a part of the system rather than be on the fringes. Even though we were fringe as a small population, we needed to be structurally real.”
Johnson Dias and her peers operationalized the ICC by helping expand the center and by gaining administrative support to secure a director and a work-study program for students. They also worked to integrate the ICC library with the main library.
Today, Lopez is building upon those initial, pioneering efforts by increasing collaboration with organizations and administrative offices across campus in hosting events and activities that promote community and celebrate diversity.
“The majority of our students come from diverse backgrounds: Asian American, African-American, Indian-American, Caribbean, Latino,” Lopez said. “We have all these groups and they need to learn how to coexist because they’re going into a globalized world.
“When our students come here, even if they’re from segregated backgrounds, they need to learn how to interact with other groups other cultures,” Lopez said. “The function of the ICC is to celebrate one’s culture and provide a space for representatives of these cultures to dialogue, including on political, hot-button issues.”
For many students, like Janice Fernandez ’17, the ICC is invaluable. Fernandez, who is from the Bronx and majors in psychology, stumbled into the ICC one day as a first-year, and now thinks of it as a second home. Not only does she go to the ICC to study and spend time with friends, but she also serves as a team leader for ICC student staff, helping organize cultural events put on by the many clubs that collaborate with the center.
“There is a community based here,” said Fernandez. “It’s so important, because the ICC is a place to learn about different cultures and see different people. Having a center dedicated to minority groups is important, and it’s a real resource for our campus.”
“At the ICC, you have the chance to be exposed to different perspectives,” Fernandez added. “I think that’s very important today, in light of societal and political changes. This is a space where you can feel safe and be educated and supported by a community.”
To find out more about the Intercultural Center's 25th anniversary celebration on April 28-29 or to register, visit the ICC website.