The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Preserving Safe Spaces: Honoring the Cultural House

Students express their cultural pride at the Cultural House. Photo courtesy of Jane He ’27.

Last Saturday, Sept. 16, the Lealtad-Suzuki Center for Social Justice (LSC) hosted its annual Cultural House Block Party. This year’s celebration was more than just a festivity, however, as it was one of the last opportunities to honor the Cultural House. The Cultural House is scheduled for demolition at the end of this academic school year and it is unclear what will replace it. For more than three decades, the Cultural House has been a symbol of progress towards a more equitable education for marginalized students at Macalester College. 

While there are plans for the replacement for the Cultural House to be a new student-centered space on campus for equity and social justice programming, there are no details on what that will look like. 

The Cultural House Guidebook (1998) showcases a desire to emphasize the deliberate effort to create safe spaces for students with intersecting identities. These intersectionalities encompass more than just gender and race, extending to sexuality, ability, class, national origin and spirituality. Throughout its decades-long existence, the Cultural House has offered an array of programs,  including poetry slams, visual and performing arts exhibitions, discussions on social issues, ally trainings and social dances.

The Cultural House has undergone several transformations involving restructuring, creation of programs, demolition of buildings and shifts in values. The LSC, previously known as the Department of Multicultural Life (DML), has led the Cultural House since 2003. With their name change, the department experienced a significant transition. The primary motivation behind the name change was the recognition that ‘multiculturalism’ did not accurately represent the essence of what the Cultural House stood for. 

“The reason to change our name from DML to a social justice center is that, in its origin and original design, the office was very race-focused and did not adequately address intersecting identities,” Hana Dinku, the Director of the LSC, explained. “Over the years, efforts were made to integrate these intersecting identities, but it wasn’t reflected in the name.” 

The value of multiculturalism at Macalester College has been an ongoing conversation that determined how the programming at the Cultural House was created. 

“In 2002, race was the defining characteristic of multiculturalism,” said Sedric McGuire, associate dean of the Kofi Annan Institute for Global Citizenship and co-director of Civic Engagement. “However, a broader discussion ensued regarding our understanding of multiculturalism. This marked a point in the evolution of our understanding and definition, with ongoing questions about sex and gender. Resources including staff with specific expertise were later added as it became a more formal part of the [LSC].” 

This academic year, the Cultural House is the residential location for the first-year course (FYC) titled ‘We Demand! Student Power, World Building, and Democratizing Higher Education, taught by Dinku and Professor Gonzalo Guzman. Jane He ’27, who is currently taking this FYC, found a residential community within the Cultural House. 

“I can’t even imagine living anywhere else and feeling as much at home as I do here.” He said. “I [think] I might feel a bit lonelier or less connected to the school community, especially the POC community at Macalester if I was living anywhere else. I just love walking around and seeing everyone who lives here; I love everyone who lives here. It’s been really great getting to interact with these people.”

He expressed that the Cultural House and the FYC have begun to serve as a healing space for her in her educational journey. Many students shared that safe spaces improve mental health, sense of belonging and overall college experience. They emphasized the need for a physical space to do this work. 

The need for safe spaces for marginalized student groups has been a longstanding topic of discussion at Macalester. From having individual affinity houses for Black, Latiné/x and Indigenous students to incorporating these spaces within the Cultural House, the conversation has evolved.

“Having a Cultural House that includes students across all identities in a single space was seen by many as a step backward, as they previously had separate houses for different identities like the Black House,” McGuire said. “This represents an intergenerational clash regarding how these spaces should be organized … but the question remains: should we have affinity space and association space? How should they exist? How can they coexist—separately and together? We can reflect on a model where every identity had its own space, but we also want to encourage coalition or shared spaces. At the end of the day, we aim to build solidarity.”

Despite the current discussions on how physical safe spaces should be envisioned and shaped, there will be a transition period when the Cultural House is demolished in which students, especially those with marginalized identities will not have access to this space. Although there are plans for eventual replacement with a social justice center space, current students, especially first-year students, will be impacted in the in-between phase. Students express that student organizations, such as BLAC and Adelante, and LSC programming such as ‘In The Kitchen With…’ are unclear where their programming will take place.

“I’m going to be sad when I walk by here and the building’s not here because I already have great memories, and I’ve been here for three weeks,” He said. 

“I feel like we already have space on campus for social justice like Markim Hall or the LSC. So why build a new one? And why tear down a space that is sacred for people of color in order to build that space?” Ma’Kahsa Lane ’24, a former resident of the Cultural House, said.

According to Dinku, in order to advance towards a more equitable education in the absence of the Cultural House, the LSC needs to enhance resources for students who have historically lacked adequate support, including undocumented students. Dinku, along with many other students who have found community through the Cultural House, believe it is crucial to acknowledge the profound impact and the significant progress that the Cultural House facilitated for marginalized students at Macalester. 

Honoring the memory of the Cultural House entails a continued commitment to understanding its history and recognizing the enduring legacy maintained by students, faculty and staff for decades.


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