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Cultural Connection Center Opens in Fall

The Cultural Connection Center offers space for panel discussions and other events to promote understanding, friendship, and shalom. (Photo credit: Nathan Klok '17)

Bethel will open the Cultural Connection Center (CCC) in fall 2015. Located on the third level of the Clauson Center, the center is designed to promote understanding, friendship, and shalom. The space is intended for all College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) students, but with a special focus for students of color, and will offer a place for gathering, dialogue, and support. Research has shown that a space like this can help significantly for students who might not be experiencing a sense of belonging on campus, explains Marie Wisner, CAS interim vice president for student life.

Leah Fulton, associate dean of intercultural student programs and services, will oversee the space in collaboration with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and other groups on campus. Fulton, along with Chief Diversity Officer Ruben Rivera; Conor Ramón Rasmusen ’17, double major in sociocultural studies and Spanish; and Esther Jones ’17, reconciliation studies major, answered a few questions about the CCC to help explain the purpose and ideas behind having this space on campus. Read more below and watch a video about the CCC as well.

What does the CCC mean to you?

Conor Rasmusen: For me the CCC means that I, as a student of color, have a space specifically designed for me to feel safe in, as well as continue to grow in my understanding of my reality as a student of color, as a Christian, and as a world-changer.

Esther Jones: To me, the Cultural Connection Center means progress. I think there’s a portion of people that may initially think of the CCC as being an exclusionary place, something that will increase the distance between white students and students of color. I don’t think this is the case. I imagine one of the purposes of the CCC will be to unite the student body, to facilitate, mediate, and stimulate difficult conversations. The CCC means that cultural and intercultural groups on campus will have a safe, designated space to have meetings, fellowship, and learn.

Leah Fulton: The CCC represents a step in the process of Bethel becoming a Christ-centered and culturally inclusive community.  It means that students who oftentimes feel lost on our campus will have a place to call home, and it represents expanding our understanding of what “diversity” means.

Why does Bethel need a space like this?

Jones: Bethel needs a space like this because, for many reasons, many students of color do not feel at home on this campus. Bethel needs the CCC because bad things sometimes happen and they need to be talked about and dealt with in a constructive manner.

Rasmusen: Bethel needs this space because every day that I, as a student of color, come to Bethel I face scary things from ignorant comments said in the classroom to racist dorm pranks and Yik Yak posts, that often make me feel like I’m not wanted at this school.This space is a step for Bethel to tell me that I am indeed wanted on this campus, that my voice is both heard, and wanted here.

Fulton: There are a number of consequences related to attending a “predominately white institution” for students from non-dominant racial and or cultural communities that impact every facet of their experiences. Spaces like this provide the opportunity for students from these backgrounds to find a space on campus that is reflective of who they are, where they come from, and what they value.  It also provides what I call “off space.” Students don't have to be the lone Asian or African student representing their entire racial, ethnic, or cultural community; instead, they just get to be.

Rivera: The world has always been diverse and is becoming more so every day. Research shows that spaces like the CCC provide a venue where a sense of belonging, Christ-redeemed self worth, and community can be fostered among students who are not part of the historical mainstream. But such a space is not designed to keep the so-called majority out. The CCC is about learning how diverse people can live together in understanding, friendship, and shalom.

Who do you hope will use the space?

Rasmusen: I have had dozens of conversations with students and former students who for reasons primarily because of their race, but also other factors, don’t feel like they fit into the mainstream “Bethel culture.” My prayer is that those are the people who use this space.

Jones: I hope that the CCC will be largely run by students of color, but that white students will actively engage in whatever is going on. My prayer is that white students would come to events and conversations with open minds aware of systematic injustices. My hope is that white students will be willing to listen. My prayer is that students of color will feel that the CCC is a safe space to be vulnerable, to be broken, to be joyful, to be angry, and to seek Jesus. My hope is that the Bethel community knits itself together tighter than ever before.

Fulton: I hope that every single Bethel CAS student will engage with the CCC at one point or another.  I realize some students will use it differently than others and that's okay. I hope all students believe that they can use the space if they so desire.  Whether it's to hang out, participate in an event, do a presentation themselves, or attend some other program, I hope that everyone will engage with the space to promote its mission of shalom, friendship, and understanding.

Rivera: It’s my hope that non-dominant student groups will find the CCC as a space that they want to go to because it’s a rest stop from having to culturally code switch; a place to combine downtime and fun with opportunities for personal growth and intercultural and intergroup friendship with other students.

What would an ideal week at the CCC look like to you?

Jones: On a daily basis, I hope the room would have hours where it would be open to anyone, to play games, to hang out, to make friends, to study. On a weekly basis I can imagine United Cultures of Bethel (UCB) subgroups meeting. I would like to see regular, facilitated conversations about race, ethnicity, culture, identity, sexuality, and more.  I can see documentaries and TV shows being watched in community in this room. I see friendly faces, open minds, lots of emotions, hard conversations, and friendships forming.

Fulton: An ideal week in the CCC would include students of color who have never connected with their racial identities before doing so for the first time. White students stepping outside of their comfort zones and participating in CCC programming, and those who are already connected with the Office of Intercultural Programs laughing, talking, studying, praying, and studying the Scriptures.

Rivera: At a basic level, an ideal week at the CCC would simply be that students go there to take a break from the day, perhaps to watch a movie and discuss it, or to hear spoken word presentations, chat with friends, and make new ones.

How do you see the CCC connecting with events like the #BlackLivesMatter panel discussion that was held recently on campus?

Rasmusen: I see the CCC being the location for future events such as #BlackLivesMatter as well as being an intentional location for students to come and continue discussion and dialogue leading to action in this center. While the planning of that event was a massive effort, I believe that these events and panels must continue around pivotal issues in the world today as it relates to social injustice.

Fulton: I see the CCC as a resource for follow-up conversations, education, and action after an event like #BlackLivesMatter.

Rivera: One obvious way is that the #BlackLivesMatter event and the CCC both seek to provide a safe space for honest but redemptive dialogue around issues that seem to divide Christians as much as non-Christians. Connected to this is the desire to see reconciliation and healing that leads to a peaceful and just community of shalom where each of us recognize each other as created in the image of God, and whom we are called to love and serve and see thrive.

What does success look like for the CCC?

Rasmusen: I believe that this place will both challenge and grow the people that it serves and will be crucial in exploring what the kingdom of heaven looks like at Bethel as it relates to growth in racial and cultural understanding.

Jones: Success for the CCC looks like a space that all Bethel students know about and feel welcome, where they’ll be expected to be respectful and listen to others’ perspectives with an open mind and heart. Success looks like students of color feeling safe, welcome, and at home on this campus. Success looks like being willing to reevaluate if something’s not working.

Fulton: Success of the CCC means that its impact resonates beyond its physical location.  Students will be well-equipped to have the difficult conversations both here at Bethel and beyond. As I recently heard another diversity professional say, success of the CCC means that people will be socially conscious – not politically correct.  Aware of the why and how – not afraid to hit a landmine.

Rivera: Long term, it is hoped that the CCC will develop into a Shalom Center that would serve the entire university and surrounding community and become known as a leader and model of how diverse people can live and thrive together.


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