More than 50 students attended a town hall hosted by Penn's main minority coalition last Monday to discuss relocating the three cultural centers in the basement of the ARCH building.
Last November, former Penn President Amy Gutmann met with members of the 7B minority coalition and offered to expand the cultural resource centers located in ARCH's basement — which include Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, La Casa Latina, and the Pan-Asian American Community House — into the rest of the ARCH building and the neighboring Vice Provost for University Life building. Offices in the VPUL building would be relocated to a planned mixed-use office building at 40th and Walnut streets, replacing the McDonald’s.
During the town hall, representatives from the 4B discussed the pros and cons of accepting the offer, and students shared their thoughts on the proposal.
The 4B consists of the three groups housed in the basement of the ARCH building — the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, the Latinx Coalition, and UMOJA — and Natives at Penn, who does not have a dedicated space on campus and currently resides in the Greenfield Intercultural Center.
Members of the 7B have been pushing for more cultural center space for years. The 7B's primary goal has been to establish an individual building for each cultural center on Locust Walk. In November 2019, Penn administrators offered to expand the cultural resource centers to the upper levels of ARCH, but the then-6B formally rejected the proposal in January 2020.
Students had mixed responses to Gutmann's proposal in November 2021, according to College junior and Latinx Coalition Political Chair Gabriela Portillo Alvarado, who spoke at the town hall. Some students were in favor of accepting the proposal for its immediate benefits, such as creating more space for student activities. Other students were less excited by the proposal, but believed the 7B would likely not get another offer.
"I think what I heard was a lot of people saying we should protest [for more cultural center space], but then also saying realistically, this is what we're going to get," Alvarado said.
A student at the meeting raised the concern that renovating ARCH to accommodate the three cultural centers and make space for Natives at Penn would make it difficult to negotiate further changes in the future, Alvarado added.
College sophomore and APSC External Chair Ashley Uppani expressed concern that accepting the proposal would make it difficult to ask for more space in the future, when the 7B's constituency grows.
"If we propose ARCH, then as the constituency grows, we might be limited to that space as admin decides they don't wan to give us any more," Uppani said. "There's a lot of time for administration to change their mind or hold it above our head and and tell us, 'Oh you said you needed more space, but you seem to be doing fine without that space.'"
The Latinx Coalition in particular serves a variety of domestic and international students who engage with discussions about cultural center space differently. College junior and Latinx Coalition External Chair Camila Irabien said many international students affiliated with the Latinx Coalition are less involved in United States politics and feel like they do not have a stake in conversations about relocating the cultural centers.
"Now with COVID, I feel like there is a very small percentage of students who are very, very involved," Irabien said. "And the majority of our constituency is actually more uninvolved than we would want them to be just because it's harder to reach them."
Irabien said while she believes the discussion was positive, many students from the communities they serve were not present at the meeting.
The 4B representatives said they plan to return to their constituencies and gather opinions on the proposal before making a decision and meeting with administration, Alvarado said. If their constituents are interested in the proposal, then the 4B will need to approach the Penn administration and make a formal request to relocate to the ARCH and VPUL buildings.
If the 4B does request to occupy the ARCH and VPUL buildings, they will likely include in the request a space for Natives at Penn and a kitchen, Alvarado said.
Irabien emphasized the importance of students’ opinions, which inform how the 4B will proceed moving forward.
"Regardless of whether we say yes or no, I want to have a more clear line of communication with our constituency and figure out what our next steps will be," Irabien said. "Because in the end, everything we do, we do because it's what they want."