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The Intersection: A Different Kind of Resource Center

Executive director Harriet Barlow on the development of UNLV's new academic multicultural center.

Campus News  |  Apr 19, 2017  |  By Cate Weeks

UNLV’s new academic multicultural resource center, The Intersection, will celebrate it’s opening on Friday, April 21, with an open house from 10 a.m. to noon in the Student Union Room 121. The ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 2:30. Guest speakers include U.S. Rep. Ruben J. Kihuen, the 2016 UNLV College of Education Alumnus of the Year.

The Intersection is an initiative from the executive vice president and provost aimed at improving student success and graduation rates and building a sense of belong on campus. We asked Harriet Barlow, executive director, to tell us more about the center.

In a nutshell, what is The Intersection?

The Intersection is a one-stop resource center to help students navigate their way to academic success.

How did the center come about?

The center has been in the works for a couple of years now. Carl Reiber, senior vice provost, saw the need for a center that was grounded in academics and efforts to improve our retention, progression, and graduation of students — particularly first-generation students and students of color.

We suspected that, as one of the most diverse public universities in the country, UNLV needed a different kind of campus multicultural center than the kind you typically find at much more homogenous institutions. There just wasn’t a perfect model out there to follow. We also didn’t want to duplicate the many programs and services already working well on campus. So we started a two-year process to identify the gaps. We engaged the entire campus and our surrounding community in creating this center and establishing its priorities.

What are those priorities?

The needs of our students became very clear, very early in the process. They kept coming back to that theme of “navigating” the campus. Think about how hard it is for first-generation students — they don’t always have a person with experience in college to turn to for answers. Sometimes they don’t even know the question they need ask. The Intersection isn’t going to be their utopia, but it’s the place to start.

While we will grow over time, but right now our top priority is to help students — particularly first-generation students and students of color — learn how to navigate their way on campus and, ultimately, graduate.

A secondary need for students was simply a physical space to share ideas and develop a sense of belonging. For marginalized groups, that sense of belonging is a big factor in their academic success.

We chose the location of The Intersection (on the first floor of the Student Union) to make it very visible and convenient to student. I think it’s also a sign that the university is really investing in helping our particular students succeed.

What were the priorities for faculty and staff?

They’re very focused on training and programs to help them serve their students better. At the top of the list are resources related to cultural competencies in the courses to serve UNLV’s specific student body better.

On Aug. 21-22, we are partnering with other campus units to host a really excellent program called Integrating Cultural Competence into Instruction, Assignments & Assessment. The program has been customized for UNLV and will give attendees really practical ways to immediately bring best practices into their courses.

The Intersection is also an avenue to enhance student-faculty engagement. For example, we’re working with the SLICES (Service Learning Initiative for Community Engagement in Sociology) program to research campus procedures from the student perspective.

How did you develop the name, The Intersection?

That’s another great example of the students influencing our development. They wanted a name that was inclusive of all the factors that go into their identity. You can’t limit them to one. The name comes from the term “intersectionality” coined by UCLA law professor Kimberle Crenshaw and it seems to say exactly what students were saying about themselves. Then we asked two art students — Jonathan Estrada and Alain Datuin — to design a graphic to represent our mission.

Are there any misconceptions you’d like to address?

This is more of an interesting point than a misconception, but we use “multicultural” in our description because it’s a shorthand way to explain what we’re doing. Sometime I worry the term can be exclusive and it may push people to choose to exclude themselves from a “multicultural group.”

Yes, people are going to naturally self-segregate but it behooves us as an institution to set up systems where people — minority and majority, privileged and marginalized — have to work together. The Intersection will be part of creating an environment on so we can safely learn about each other and get to the level of understanding. One that says all students belong here.

What will success be for the center?

Success, to me, will be that there is a marked and significant difference in our retention and graduation rates in students of color — one that we can correlate with students who have been involved in The Intersection. I also want to the campus to be able to identify The Intersection as a top resource for them. Ultimately, we want everyone on campus to see us as an important part of the fabric of the university.