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LETTER: Move of UND Centers part of campus master plan

I would like to address some concerns that have been expressed in the Grand Forks Herald and elsewhere about the move of some of the UND centers, including the Women’s Center and the International Centre, into the Memorial Union.

The university is indeed seeing a lot of physical changes this summer.  A number of offices and centers are moving.  In many cases, these moves are part of the university’s master planning process to make services, programs and offices easily accessible to students and to make more efficient use of our spaces.  

Some of the vacated spaces, particularly buildings that at one time were private residences, are old and have significant structural problems.  The university first reported in early 2014 that it was considering taking these buildings offline.  In June, UND Interim President Ed Schafer shared with the university campus that nine buildings “will be vacated as soon as possible  and within the next year.”  This will result in an estimated annual  operating cost savings of about $1.1 million and will reduce the backlog of deferred maintain by $32 million.  Given the problems of keeping older facilities up and running, combined with recent budget challenges to the university and all state agencies, this is a prudent decision.

With each move, we are committed to meeting students’ needs with top-quality service.  And we are seeing benefits to students from such moves.  When Multicultural Student Services moved from a house on University Avenue to a new space in the Memorial Union, visits to the Center increased from 1,201 in Fall 2014 to 3,779 in the Fall of 2015.

To be clear, there are no plans to cut programs or services offered by any of the cultural diversity centers.  In fact, the move of the centers to the Memorial Union, the building that is the “heart of student life,” means that they are able to help more students gain access to resources and support. 

The critical role that the Women’s Center plays in supporting victims of sexual assault is, sadly, still needed.  It is with the involvement of the Women’s Center that the university has increased efforts to address this issue through educational programs offered by the Coordinator for Sexual Respect and Violence Prevention and the Title IX Coordinator, counseling with the licensed professionals of the University Counseling Center, and assistance to sexual assault victims through a partnership with the Community Violence Intervention Center (CVIC). 

The Centers are not going away.  They still exist, but in a new location that will allow their good works to be known by a greater number of students.  Students do not have to walk out of a building that they know well in order to seek services, and this includes those who are physically unable to gain access to staff in older structures which are only wheelchair accessible on the first floor. 

The new locations for the Women’s Center and the International Centre will offer not only space for staff offices, but meeting space and student gathering space, all of which are critical for meeting the needs of students.

Sandra Mitchell

UND Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion