Inside Stevens’ new Student Center (formerly Alexander House), the university community gathered for a reception to celebrate the opening of the new Intercultural Space on February 5.
Liliana Delman, assistant director for diversity education, welcomed alumni, current students, faculty and staff with opening remarks that made clear, in no uncertain terms, for whom the new facility is intended:
“The mission of the Intercultural Space is to empower Stevens students to create a thriving and inclusive community by cultivating a supportive space for underrepresented students and their allies on campus to foster an understanding of diversity and inclusion. Students of any background, gender identity, expression, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, citizenship status and physical or mental disability – all are welcome,” she proclaimed.
“As part of diversity education, the intercultural space will provide resources to empower and support Stevens students, and serve as a hub for the ongoing efforts toward building a more diverse, inclusive and engaged community at Stevens,” Delman elaborated.
The creation of the Intercultural Space is the culmination of a broad student effort initiated by business and technology junior Nasir Anthony Montalvo who identified a need for a dedicated space on campus for underrepresented students back when he was a sophomore in 2018.
Montalvo helped establish the Diversity & Inclusion Committee within the Student Government Association in an effort to build student support for the new facility. That committee, with Montalvo serving as chair, submitted a 26-page proclamation that included survey data and student testimonials collected over a span of three months on the need for an intercultural center.
"We gathered survey responses around midnight breakfast, dorm stormed all the freshmen residence halls, emailed the athletics department, gave this presentation called the intercultural center toolkit and explained why we needed this,” Montalvo recalled.
On September 24, 2019, the Stevens administration approved the creation of an Intercultural Space. The space is temporarily housed in the Student Center, which opened on December 2, 2019, where it will stay until it moves to the new Student Housing and University Center currently under construction. Montalvo learned of that decision right before the beginning of the 2019-20 academic year, describing the move as “good progress.”
SGA member Anthony Tesori ’21, who had been following the progress of that effort from the very beginning, applauded the commitment, organization and persistence of the students who advocated for the space.
“The goal of our student government is to be able to have people come to us with issues and to rally behind them. That was the goal of the proclamations that we wrote to the student government and forming the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. Even though the students [who were behind this effort] are the minority on campus they were able to get their voices heard and get a lot accomplished.”
As Stevens undergraduate and graduate students looked around the inviting space, they expressed their appreciation for the comfortable seating areas, artwork and literature, all aimed at facilitating dialogue, identity and leadership development and creative programming on the topic of diversity and inclusion and intersections of social identity and cultures on campus.
Vivian Touch, who serves on the Diversity & Inclusion Committee as a race and ethnicity advocate, was seeing the space for the very first time.
“It’s so beautiful. We have this gorgeous artwork on the walls from different people on campus. I just think it’s a celebration of our diversity and one step further to becoming more inclusive. I can’t wait to show people this,” said the first year business management major.
Chemical engineering major Christian Bonavita ’21, agreed that the Intercultural Space represented an important milestone for the university, saying he was looking forward to attending events and meeting new friends there.
“[Diversity] has been a topic that’s been addressed recently better than in the past and this is another good step forward.”
Alumni provided valuable perspective by highlighting the evolution of campus culture and society in general on the subject of diversity and inclusion.
Malena Higuera '75, a member of the first class of women admitted to Stevens when the university became coed in 1971, is the university’s first Latin American woman to graduate. She spoke about immigrating to Hoboken from Cuba with her family in 1968.
“I learned about the world through the people at Stevens. They learned about my culture but I was the one who was enriched by learning about everyone else’s culture,” Higuera said.
Clarelle DeGraffe ’84, general manager of the PATH system, shared a poignant experience of her time at Castle Point as well.
“I came from a predominantly African American community in Brooklyn. And there were people here in the 80s who had never really interacted with an African American before. Through no fault of their own, everybody was just in their own world,” she recalled.
The Intercultural Space, she said, offers current and future students an opportunity for cultural exchange and to have difficult conversations about racism and gender identity.
“And that’s good because it’s opening us up to each other, breaking the walls of fear down, and helping us to embrace one other. I’m always proud of this university, but I’m proud of my alma mater once again for taking this step of embracing a diverse culture.”