Olena Rypich/ The AS Review

The Ethnic Student Center invites the Western community to join in commemorating its 20th year on campus. The celebration will start with the Mixed Identity Student Organization kickoff on Monday, Sept. 27 and the center’s 13 clubs will host a series of events throughout the school year.

Originally a small organization of only five clubs, the ESC has evolved into a strong support system of 13 clubs and more than 300 members.

Each club has a different mission and goals. Some aim to share their cultures with other people, while some groups focus on specific ethnic backgrounds and celebrating heritages.

Anthony Rego, public relations coordinator for the ESC, said that the center is a safe and supportive environment for historically underrepresented groups and provides cultural and educational programs.

“That’s part of what I’m trying to focus on this year, outreach, just making sure what the campus as a whole understands what the [center] is and how they can use it as a resource, because it’s a wonderful place for students who are looking for leadership positions, who are interested in diversity, who are interested in learning about themselves and other people,” he said.

One of the center’s goals is to affirm identities, to develop a space where any identity is welcome.

“We have an emphasis on ethnic identity, but we try to honor everybody’s different backgrounds,” said Michael Vendiola, who is in his 12th year as coordinator and activities adviser for the ESC.

The center is inclusive of all socio-economic statuses, religions and sexual orientations and aims to build community and cultivate leadership.

“While students are here, we want to honor their perspectives and have their culture and identity respected, and in that sense, they’re being leaders of their community, so we try to honor that fact,” Vendiola said.
The center now offers more support to meet student needs, through event organization, leadership training or academic advising, Rego said.

The ESC is in its second year of having several salaried staff positions and has acquired graduate assistant and work-study student positions, but everyday operation still depends on the work of its many volunteers.

This is Rego’s first year working for the center. He said his interest grew last year as a resident advisor at Western.
He said he used the center as a resource for his residents, but realized he’d never been there and didn’t know much about the center.

“When I started going into the Ethnic Student Center, it was full of wonderful people,” he said. “It was hard for me to stop going.”

“There’s a lot of social issues out there the students in the ESC try to tackle—white privilege, sexism, racism, for example,” Vendiola said.

One focus of the ESC is providing a place on campus where students can feel they belong, Vendiola said.

“[When] working with 300 students in various clubs and organizations, that becomes a primary goal,” Vendiola said. “But the second part, to the general student population, is an educational opportunity. Through events and workshops, the center offers the broader community [a chance] to learn about various—perhaps entirely unfamiliar—cultures.”

These students are not the majority, so they don’t necessarily stand out on campus Vendiola said. These students, in that sense, do service to the greater community through educating others, he said.

“[President Bruce Shepard] speaks about that all the time: diversity. Western is interested in diversifying the student body,” Vendiola said. “This effort is a continuation of that. We can’t equate the ESC as diversity. It’s only one small section. We all come from a background, but we use the ESC to address one part of the diversity effort.”