COVID-19 has forced many offices and programs on campus to make changes to their typical operations, cancel or adapt events to an online format and alter their physical office space to ensure the health of staff and visitors. The Multicultural Education and Resource Center (MERC) is no exception. The MERC is prepared to face these challenges and is moving forward with plans to restructure its programming and strengthen the student voice on campus.
The MERC reports to NMU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Jessica Cruz, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, said the center is attempting to reduce exposure to COVID-19 by restricting access to high contact surfaces. This means that free printing, snacks and use of the center’s physical space for gatherings will no longer be available. The majority of resources and events will be provided in an online or hybrid format. Students should be on the lookout for information regarding these events.
“Just like a flyer or communications would have gone out before with the room information, we’ll do the same thing except with Zoom information or with a way to RSVP for us,” Cruz said.
Leora Lancaster, Community Engagement and Program Manager at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said if students must visit the MERC in person, there are guidelines that need to be followed.
“Physical space is going to be altered and it already has, you know, due to COVID, such as some specific signs when you’re coming into the MERC office,” Lancaster said.
Lancaster said the floor is marked with tape to indicate proper social distancing.
Despite these restrictions and the shift to online or hybrid events and services, Cruz and Lancaster are looking forward to some positive changes in the MERC’s structure and programming. Cruz highlighted a five-point framework for restructuring comprising cultural education, engagement, student development, community building and environment enrichment; all with an emphasis on culture, diversity, and equity on campus.
Cruz works with the Diversity Student Alliance to make sure student voices are heard at NMU.
“The way it’s constructed is, at least originally it was the student leaders of all of the diversity student orgs, and then I expanded it to include anyone interested in working on diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Cruz said.
Student organizations are also facing the challenges of COVID-19 while looking forward to the restructuring of the MERC. Although the Black Student Union had to cancel their plans for a cookout due to the virus, they are enthusiastic about the restructuring of the MERC because it will strengthen communication among students, even as COVID-19 is complicating their other plans.
“I feel like the upcoming changes to the MERC will have a really good impact, to be honest, on diversity orgs and how we function together,” junior medicinal plant chemistry major D’Mario Duckett said.
Duckett has served as the president of the Black Student Union (BSU) for two semesters.
“I feel like it’ll be more inclusive and more fluid, like in how we can plan events,” Duckett said.
He hopes that the changes to MERC will allow BSU to more easily connect and collaborate with other diversity student organizations.
Whether with other organizations or on their own, BSU plans to remain active and engage with the campus community this semester.
“In a couple weeks we are planning on doing a voter registration event where we educate people on disenfranchised voters and what black people had to go through in order to get the right to vote, and then also help people get registered so they can vote in this upcoming election,” Duckett said.
Lancaster compares the Diversity Student Alliance to superheroes.
“It’s really amazing, like how these students have connected, and that they are all realizing that they have these diverse needs,” Lancaster said. “And they’re able to connect and able to be supported by the university.”
For more information on the MERC, visit https://www.nmu.edu/multiculturaledandres/.