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Student Voices Lead Enhancements to Multicultural House

(l-r) Marcus Weinstein, Sam ’40 and Ava Spencer, Carole Weinstein
(l-r) Marcus Weinstein, Ava and Sam Spencer '40, Carole Weinstein

Davidson students often point to a certain location or activity at Davidson as their "home away from home." For many, it's their residence hall, where they have bonded with a roommate or hall mates. For scholar athletes, it could be the time they spend with their teammates who have become like family. For performers, it could be when they are on a stage in front of a full house. And for students who come to Davidson from underrepresented backgrounds, the college's Multicultural House often becomes their home away from home.

"The Multicultural House has become very dear to students over the years because it's one of the few spaces on campus that truly feels like a home-where academics and grades can take a backseat, and where students can come together to enjoy each other's company and also have tough conversations when those are needed," said Bruna Siqueira '17.

"Upgrades will allow the space to be further transformed from a fraternity house, which it once was, to a space that very intentionally emulates a home where diversity is embraced," Siqueira said. "When you're literally 1,000 miles from home and you're trying to fit in and feel accepted despite your background being different from a large part of the student body, it's nice to have a place that reminds you some spaces are made for you as a person, and not as a student."

Over the past year, the college hosted focus groups aimed at identifying the needs of the house moving forward and ways to facilitate even more important conversations and community-building events.

"Through many conversations, it was clear students did not want the Multicultural House to become an academic setting," said Tracey Hucks, chair of Davidson's Africana Studies department.

"What's so beautiful about this space is that it allows multiple groups to come together and engage in dialogue that may not happen in other spaces on campus," Hucks noted. "The house creates opportunities for social interactions and relationship building, and the students value that time together."

Enhancement plans, which have been shaped by student input, include an enclosed patio for social events and year-round usage; separate spaces where multiple events can take place simultaneously; a home-style kitchen in place of the commercial kitchen; exterior beautifications; and interior finishings that speak to the diverse populations who use the space most regularly.

"The goal is to provide opportunities for different students from all backgrounds and identities-be it racial, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, or gender expression and sexuality related-to have the opportunity to explore these intersections of identity in a space that not only represents them, but that structurally allows different organizations and groups on campus to gather," Siqueira said.

These enhancements are possible because of the significant generosity of Marcus and Carole Weinstein of Richmond, Va., close friends of Davidson College. Additionally, the house will be renamed the Spencer-Weinstein Center for Community and Justice. The first name, Spencer, honors the late Samuel R. Spencer Jr., Davidson College president from 1968 until 1983.

Spencer knew personal relationships formed the bedrock of his beloved Davidson. His presidency was characterized by a keen sense of diplomacy, a kind sense of humor and an uncanny ability to remember names going back to his own Davidson student days. It was from that strong foundation of personal relationships that he led institutional changes necessary to the times, not all of them popular in the moment. During Spencer's presidency, Davidson witnessed the introduction of co-education, active recruitment and admission of African and African American students, establishment of a self-selection social system for fraternities, reevaluation of the college's relationship with the Presbyterian Church and student unrest over the Vietnam War.

"I love that Sam pushed for greater diversity at a time when his peers were incredibly uncomfortable with it," said Tae-Sun Kim, director of multicultural affairs at Davidson. "A lot of the students who meet at the Multicultural House, and those who have fought for it over the years, are cut from that same cloth. They push on so the college is better. It's very appropriate that his name be on this new space."

A Focus on Community

Carole and Marcus Weinstein
Carole and Marcus Weinstein

The selection of the words "community" and "justice" speak to Davidson students' commitment to these issues on campus and beyond.

"The word ‘community' is self-explanatory and evokes an open-armed welcome to all," said Carole Weinstein. "The word ‘justice' suggests fairness and civility, yet is broad and flexible enough to encompass topics relevant to each generation of students and their current issues of campus life and global concern. Most importantly, ‘justice' is meant to undergird such generalizations with intention and action."

Kassim Alani '15, a recent alumnus who was deeply involved in conversations related to the future of the house during his time as a student, hopes these words remind students about the house's history and its future.

"These two words are integral to why the house is still here today," said Alani. "While Davidson has made incredible strides to welcome students of marginalized backgrounds, the house's original intent and purpose was to educate a certain demographic. Given the various challenges faced by these groups, it is essential that there is a space for community where students can feel empowered to take ownership over their experiences at Davidson and also find other folks who may be going through the same challenges of adjusting to a historically white institution. It is also important to remember that community is an inclusive term meaning that anybody who is willing to foster inclusivity along difference is welcome to become part of the community who uses the house."

Over the years, the house and the opportunities created because of the house have made a lasting impact on the lives of students for whom it was an important part of their time at Davidson.

"The Multicultural House was the impetus for me to become an outspoken leader on campus around issues of social marginalization," said Alani. "When I found out the house was to be removed my sophomore year, I originally had no intent in fighting that decision. However, after hearing the voices and stories of students who would be so deeply affected by its removal, I knew we had to do something. When I look back on that, it always reminds me that it takes a community of organized people to make change-not just one person. It reminds me that ‘We the students' saved the house and, ultimately, that community approach has informed how I continue to approach addressing and solving social inequity."

Lasting Legacy Through Friendship

The Weinsteins are longtime friends of the college, generously contributing to a variety of programs in support of international education, The Davidson Trust and student-led research.

"Our Davidson connection began on the tennis court 30 years ago when Marcus was paired in a doubles match with a person new to Richmond, Sam Spencer, who had recently retired as president of Davidson College," Carole recalled. "Marcus and Sam's mutual commitment to education drew them beyond the tennis court to a deep and abiding affection based on similar ideals of equality and trust."

The couple's most recent gift in support of the Spencer-Weinstein Center for Community and Justice is another way to celebrate the families' special friendship and shared passions while enhancing the experience for all Davidson students.