The Intercultural Resource Center is devoted to promoting a just society and exploring issues of interculturalism and diversity within and beyond the Columbia University community. The IRC provides a forum for education and social exchange that encourages self-discovery, increased social awareness, and an appreciation of the cultural histories within and between communities on campus. We strive to equip students, faculty, and staff with the tools necessary to empower themselves, successfully navigate their environments, and positively impact the community at large.
- Provide a safe and supportive environment in which students from all social identities and backgrounds including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, socio-economic class, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation can feel comfortable discussing important issues affecting their respective communities.
- Promote greater awareness of social inequity, and the experiential realities and social histories of identity groups that have been historically underrepresented within the Columbia University community.
- Strive for a more cohesive campus community by fostering cross-cultural communication and cooperation.
- Sustain a genuine commitment to making diversity and multiculturalism important aspects of the Columbia University experience.
- Encourage activism and participation in a wide array of campus activities.
In 1983 students of African and Latino descent formed a coalition to better unify and organize their various organizations. This coalition would later include students of Asian and Native American descent and be known as the United Minorities Board (UMB). The United Minorities Board was the precursor to the United Students of Color Council (USCC). Responding to the isolation and lack of respect students of color faced at predominantly white institutions, UMB suggested the development of a center to ameliorate these problems. As many college campuses throughout the United States had such centers, students of color at Columbia felt that one was sorely needed here as well. UMB discussed the idea with then Columbia College Dean of Students, Roger Lehecka and were encouraged to develop a formal proposal. After years of discussion and proposals, UMB secured programming funds from the Columbia College Deans Office in the fall of 1986. Unfortunately, UMB had no viable space to house the IRC; therefore, instead of the purchase of books and computers, UMB used the funds for programming.
During the 1987-1988 academic year, UMB was facing organizational challenges, fortunately the Black Students Organization (BSO) and Chicano Caucus worked together to reorganize the efforts for a cultural center. By the academic year-end, UMB had organized under the leadership of Luisa Linares and this new, revived coalition made the formation of the IRC their top priority. In the Fall of 1988, Columbia College found a physical space for the center, the former Kappa Delta Rho Fraternity House. Finally, the IRC as a cultural center was officially born.
Columbia College Dean William Wiggins and a committee of students of color hired the IRC’s first Director Richard Chacon, a full-time student at the School of International and Public Affairs. The Center has had three coordinators following Mr. Chacon at the helm, Diane Blackman, Gemma Campbell (interim coordinator) and Susan Stuart. The IRC opened to students in the Spring of 1989, housing thirteen graduate and undergraduate students. With the consistent initiative of students of color, the Center had a wide variety of programming including discussion groups, lectures and art exhibits. Even though Columbia College initially funded the IRC, it served, as it does today, the entire University community. The IRC works collaboratively with several offices within Student Affairs and throughout the University. The IRC has enjoyed strong ties with Earl Hall, the Whitney M. Young Program, the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, ALICE!, and many others. From 1994 to 1999 the IRC was formally associated with the Institute for Research in African American Studies which allowed the Center to strengthen its commitment to the quality of life experiences for all Columbia students. Today, the IRC is under the supervision of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, an office created at Columbia in July, 2004 to promote an inclusive university climate and act as an educational resource that prepares students to succeed in our ever-changing society.
The IRC was founded upon the principles of equity and inclusion, the same principles which motivate people throughout the world to struggle. From its inception, the IRC has provided programs and support services for students of color, LGBTQ students, and diversity discussion and training opportunities for all University students. As past events have shown, the IRC is also a place of expression, hosting such luminaries as Vladmir Centeno from El Salvador, Rigoberta Mench from Guatemala, Author Amiri Baraka, activist Yuri Kochiyama, Native Storyteller Gayle Ross and many others. At its core, the Center is fully engaged in the past and present struggles of people of color and all people invested in creating a better world. All Columbia students who walk these ivy halls bear a responsibility to respond with truth and good faith to the creation of a just campus community, one which celebrates differences and rejoices in collaboration, a fundamental goal of the Intercultural Resource Center.
Adapted from, “A Letter from the Class of 1990,” a celebratory statement drafted by the first cohort of Intercultural House residents to the university community.