Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said in a Friday interview that Harvard will need to continue research and planning before making any decisions regarding a possible multicultural center.
“I appreciate that from a student's perspective that things can seem like they take a longer time. And partly, you know, it's because constructing anything — and then you have to maintain it and sustain it and make sure that it outlasts the sort of current moment — takes time,” Khurana said.
Several candidates in the recently concluded Undergraduate Council presidential election proposed establishing a multicultural center. UC president- and vice president-elect James A. Mathew ’21 and Ifeoma E. White-Thorpe ’21 have advocated converting a floor of the Smith Campus Center into a multicultural space. Other candidates proposed that the UC rent off-campus space for a multicultural center.
Khurana also cited the work of the Symbols and Spaces Committee the College created last year in response to the candidates’ proposals. In February, he said the group would use student feedback to create diversity-related programming and examine how Harvard uses its physical spaces.
“Part of what we’re working on, and we're doing work through our Symbols and Spaces Committee, is what is the nature of the kinds of spaces students are looking for? What's the programming? What happens in those places? Who are the people you want to see in those places? What's the staff that you want to see in those?” he said Friday.
The UC candidates’ proposals for a multicultural center mark the latest effort in decades of student calls for such a space on campus. Student activism for a multicultural center stretches back to the 1960s and 70s, but the University has yet to approve any such plans.
A 2018 University-wide diversity task force identified the continued development of “inclusive symbols and spaces” as a priority for Harvard. The UC created a “Multicultural Center Coalition” in 2018 that has solicited student perspectives on the matter and sent plans for a center to Khurana.
Khurana said he hopes to work with Mathew and White-Thorpe when they take office to integrate student feedback into the College’s planning. The pair declined to comment on their multicultural center proposal.
Khurana also spoke about the challenges of repurposing physical space at the College, citing the construction of the Smith Campus Center, which started in 2016. He said he understands that students often want to see physical changes during their four years at Harvard, but that the College’s timeline often stretches for much longer.
“I think what we try to do as much as possible is work on trying to address things that are in the short term that we can be very responsive to, identify those things in the medium term as we sort of think about spaces where we locate something, and then also understand the long term that these things require,” he said.