SHERIDAN — When a student wrote a racially-charged comment on a white board in Braylee Armajo’s dorm in 2017, some people told her to just erase it.
“That’s not the point,” she said. “We’ve been erasing it for how long? It’s time to actually fix something here.”
Armajo is the president of the Native American Club at Sheridan College.
A packed room of students and faculty celebrated the grand opening of the new campus Multicultural Center at Sheridan College Wednesday.
There has been substantial movement toward celebrating diversity in Sheridan, said Joseph Aguirre, TRIO program director and director of the Center.
Aguirre hopes students will use the Center as a place to foster and share political, social, spiritual and cultural growth.
Armajo said finding a sense of belonging is an important part of the college experience. The Center and the Native American Club helped Armajo and other students perform better in school, she said.
The Center is intended to be a safe space to gather and grow a sense of community and inclusion, Aguirre said. The incident in 2017 shook the campus and the community.
“[It] highlighted how much we need a safe space for students to gather who come from underrepresented backgrounds,” he said.
There is still work to be done, but Aguirre said he hopes this initiative will help change poor habits and encourage diversity and inclusion in Sheridan.
Leah Barrett said the idea for the Center first came about three-and-a-half years ago when she came to campus as the vice president for student affairs. It took time to find the space and funding to develop it into a functional Center.
Armajo said there was a big push to get the center up and running after the 2017 incident.
Athletes and artists have their places to gather on campus, but many minority students haven’t had that space until now, Armajo said.
Sara Heuck Sinclair, dean of instruction and academic services, said the Center represents an important partnership between academics and student life, providing opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom and their dorms.
“I think we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” Heuck Sinclair said. “We’re creating a space for all students who identify as ‘other’ to come and share their life experiences, their culture, their backgrounds…I think it’s us saying ‘we believe in this.’ We believe that diversity makes us stronger.”
After moving from Atlanta, Georgia, student Tehn Ehsahni Forte said they hope the Center will provide a comfortable space for minority students to come together and celebrate events in a small, mostly white town.
Forte said they hope by providing a place for students to feel safe and heard, academic performance and quality of life will increase.
“This Center is supposed to be a place where all cultures can come in here and use this facility,” professor Jonni Joyce said. “If we can give that sense of family, then these students are going to do better in school…they’re going to be more successful and they’re going to enjoy their college experience more.”
The Center became an official site for programming when visiting professor Donovin Sprague came to Sheridan College this semester, Joyce said.
After the racial incident, there was overwhelming community and campus support for Native American students, Joyce said.
The College was determined to show that racist behavior was not acceptable or indicative of Sheridan College culture and the Center demonstrates that commitment, Joyce said.
The Center will be hosting speakers and events throughout November for Native American Heritage Month.