CORVALLIS - Oregon State University officials joined students and faculty this week in signing a pledge to support the university's four student cultural centers in perpetuity.
The covenant - designed by both students and administrators - guarantees that the university will not move the cultural centers from their existing houses on campus without approval from affected students. OSU is the only one of Oregon's seven public universities to have a cultural center dedicated to Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans and is the only university to guarantee continued support for each center.
The cultural centers serve as a gathering place for students to socialize, study and celebrate their distinct culture. Most of the centers are located in homes on campus complete with kitchens, office space, televisions, furniture and small libraries. They are financially supported by student fees.
"I feel validated by this document," said Adrian Castro, a grade school teacher and OSU alumni. Castro told a large audience gathered for Tuesday's signing celebration in the university's Memorial Union Building that the Centro Cultural César Chávez was a home away from home during his time at the university.
"It says something about a university that it's willing to stand behind its words," Castro said.
Tim Hall, an African American student leader at OSU in the mid-1970s when the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center was established, said he was one of the university's biggest critics as a student because he didn't think the university was doing enough to address racial issues on campus. He is now a member of the university's Board of Visitors for Minority Affairs that advises the university president on matters related to fostering cultural diversity and the enhancement of educational and professional opportunities for minority students.
"I'm proud to sit on the board," he said. "I recognize a real commitment to change from what once was a culture of intolerance. I applaud OSU and Dr. Risser for their efforts."
The Native American Longhouse was the first cultural center to open at OSU, nearly 30 years ago. That was followed by the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center and Centro Cultural César Chávez. The Asian Cultural Center opened a decade ago.
Larry Roper, vice provost for student affairs, said the process for signing the agreement to support the student cultural centers began more than a year ago after the university released a long-range master plan that didn't specifically identify the location of certain cultural centers.
"As university administrators, we knew we needed to show our support for the cultural centers," Roper said. "We created a draft of the covenant, received input from the leaders of each cultural center, and proceeded with the signing ceremony. It was a collaborative creation and, as I understand it, something that is unique in higher education."
OSU President Paul Risser said signing the covenant solidifies the university's commitment to the cultural centers and recognizes that affirming diversity enhances educational opportunities.
"The cultural centers are a valuable piece of the university," Risser said.
The covenant signing ceremony was part of the university's celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.