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Cultural Connection Center Celebrates Grand Opening

Junior Conor Rasmusen (right) talks with Touger Thao (left), pastor of Roots Covenant Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, who visited the Cultural Connection Center during the center’s grand opening event. (Photo credit: Kurt Jarvi)

During Homecoming weekend October 9-11, Bethel community members celebrated the grand opening of the Cultural Connection Center (CCC). It’s a new campus space dedicated to nurturing a sense of belonging, promoting healthy dialogue about diversity, and providing educational opportunities that strengthen the multicultural fabric of the university. The space is located on the third level of the Clauson Center next to the CC313 lecture hall.

About 45 people attended a dinner on October 8, which provided an opportunity for local ministry leaders to gather with Bethel community members to share meaningful conversations about cultural connections and what a space like this can mean on a university campus. Afterward, a program and reception were held in the CCC space and adjoining lounge, where about 70 people gathered.

On October 9, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held with six official ribbon cutters, including President Jay Barnes, Vice President and Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Deb Sullivan-Trainor, Chief Diversity Officer Ruben Rivera, and Associate Dean of Intercultural Programs and Services Leah Fulton, as well as students Zakiya Robinson and Conor Rasmusen.

“When I started dreaming about this two years ago, I would not have imagined that I would be here behind a mic for a grand opening celebration,” CCC student worker Kiersti Phenow said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“One of the things that we believe in, in terms of a Bethel education, is challenge and support,” said Rivera at the ceremony.  “I consider the CCC a safe space, but in the sense that it is a brave space. Because this is a place where all are welcome to sit down, to get to know one another, to ask honest questions, but also to listen and to be open to hear others’ stories and to truly understand what it means to have just a piece of what the future is going to be like. The future is going to be a place where everyone from every language and ethnicity and nation will truly be able to sing the glorious chorus together to the glory of Jesus Christ.”

Pang Moua, program specialist for the Cultural Connection Center, enjoyed the grand opening events and heard many positive things about the space from those who attended. Future activities are already scheduled in the space, including a study abroad lunch and discussions led by CCC student employees Lucy Lee and Samuel Chavez-Barrett. “It will be a casual time for students to engage with other students who have studied abroad,” says Moua. “Also, we plan to have an RA/RD coffee, cookies, and conversations hosted by CCC student worker Kiersti Phenow. There will be a Sankofa information session in the CCC hosted by Campus Ministries student worker Conor Rasmusen.”

Spring programming includes a three-part series on understanding (January, February), friendship (March- early April), and shalom (mid April- May), says Fulton. “Students, community partners, faculty, and staff will contribute to programming under these three banners, addressing a variety of topics from sexuality to identity, difficult conversations, and immigration—in honor of the G92 conference which will take place in the spring,” she explains.

Fulton has worked hard to find the right group of people to lead the CCC, including hiring Moua this summer. In addition, the student leader team includes students from a variety of areas and interest groups on campus, such as student workers Chavez-Barrett and Lee, who are also study abroad ambassadors. Chavez-Barrett also works as a resident assistant for Residence Life along with Kiersti Phenow; Zakiya Robinson is a student senator; Emily Dunbar is a PrayFirst leader; and Tina Vang is a CCC intern. 

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