While some students praised a series of renovations in the ARCH building, others say the updates neglect the larger issue of giving students of color more prominent spaces on campus.
Three cultural centers are located in the basement of the ARCH building: La Casa Latina, Makuu, and the Pan-Asian American Community House. All six minority coalition groups use the space in the ARCH, but only three are affiliated with the cultural centers in the basement — the Latinx Coalition, UMOJA, and the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, respectively.
The 6B has been pushing for the cultural centers to move out of the basement of the ARCH and into separate houses on Locust Walk so that minority students occupy a more prominent space on campus. Last week, administrators granted the cultural centers permission to use the entirety of the ARCH, but student leaders in the 6B have not decided whether they will take Penn's offer or if they will continue to push for moving into separate houses on Locust Walk.
Beginning in August, Penn renovated the building with new wall coverings, couches and chairs, and signage that points to the cultural resource centers located in the basement. The updates came after Vice Provost of University Life Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum met with focus groups comprised of students from 6B.
Members of the 6B, however, said the renovations — although intended to attract more students to the ARCH — do not increase visibility or space for the cultural resource centers.
“It definitely feels like the renovations were kind of put in place in ARCH to almost appease the qualms of students who do use the cultural resource centers’ resources,” said College senior Lisa Romero, chair of internal affairs for the Latinx Coalition. “It’s like wrapping up a present very pretty, but the present itself sucks.”
After meetings with the 6B, the University hired Marjan Gartland, director of design services, to make renovations in the ARCH. Over the summer, she collaborated with staff members in VPUL's office to put the plans for the update into action. Gartland said that many of the textures and patterns used are similar to decorations in the cultural resource centers.
“We were really charged with bringing vibrancy into the ARCH because when you walk into that space, you don’t realize that three cultural centers are located there,” Gartland said. “We wanted someone to walk in and see the colors, the textures, and the patterns that are part of Penn.”
Other students who use the ARCH as a study location said they enjoy the new furniture.
College senior LaKeisha Henley said she goes to the ARCH in between classes to study and take advantage of Micro Market’s microwave. She said she appreciates the conduciveness of the updates to a productive study space.
“I really like the furniture,” Henley said. “It’s a lot quieter here now than it was when it was [Tortas] Frontera. I like the President Gutmann quote; I really like how that looks.”
College freshman Zachariah Parks goes to the ARCH twice a week to study and attend events that are held in the building. Like Henley, Parks also enjoys the new couches and chairs that have been installed on the first floor of the ARCH.
“I’m a really big fan of the furniture,” Parks said. “The pillows are really soft, and I like the color scheme.”
College senior Nadiyah Browning is co-chair of UMOJA, and while she appreciates Penn's efforts to listen to the 6B, she does not think the updates on the first floor have actually affected Makuu.
“I don't think that's really affected the traffic that we get in and out of Makuu,” Browning said. “It’s usually the same people, and it hasn't affected us in terms of space. We don’t have any newer space to use, technically.”