A virtual home away from home

Diversity center staff

L-R: Ian Zamora, Diana Betancourt Macias, Erick Yanzon and Miguel Macias

Marc Studer photo

By Maria Lamarca Anderson
Social movements for racial justice. Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the world. The coronavirus pandemic’s effects on marginalized populations and on the economy. The outcome of the upcoming general election.

These are the very real issues students are dealing with as they begin the academic year, said Miguel Macias, director of the University of Washington Bothell’s Student Diversity Center.

“All this, on top of navigating how to learn — and succeed — in a virtual environment is causing a lot of anxiety,” he said.

One goal in mind

Macias and his team have been busy preparing the center for the new academic year. He admits to getting a later start in planning because “we faced the same issues as our students. Every day, there was something new and crushing to our community that would simply exhaust our energy,” he said.

“But now, we’re ready and excited to connect with our students and the UW Bothell community.”

As the team welcomes back returning students and greets the class of 2024, it has one goal in mind: To transform the diversity center into a virtual space that evokes the same feeling of “home” that the physical space on campus has provided.

“For most, if not all, of our students, the diversity center was home away from home,” said Macias. “A place where they could connect with other students who understood what they were going through, where they could have real conversations about their feelings and fears. It was where they solidified relationships with faculty and staff, other departments and the university in general. The Student Diversity Center is a space on campus that is designed by and for students, providing them a community to feel empowered and a home to belong to.

“It’s clear they are still looking for that same connection,” he said. “And quite honestly, so are we.”

On accord with Discord

To separate the academic environment from the community-building space, Macias’ team looked for an alternative to Zoom, the platform most used in remote learning.

“We wanted to be intentional about giving students a clear break from the left side of their brain,” Macias said. “When you want to chill and just hang out, you don’t want to be in the same mindset as when you’re studying online with your classmates.”

The team looked to Discord, an app some of the staff and student leaders were familiar with from their gaming experiences. Originally created for gamers, Discord is now used more widely to create a variety of online communities.

The app will be presented to students at the beginning of autumn quarter, with the idea that they will co-create the virtual communities. Macias said. “We want to develop these spaces with them, not for them — spaces for opportunity and hope at a time that can sometimes feel hopeless.

What he does know already, said Macias, is that the app will help them create “a virtual space where students will be able to access study rooms, reflection spaces and UW Bothell community resources. We will also have a virtual front desk were students will be able to interact with our peer navigators and intercultural coordinators.”

Purposeful programs

Macias is hopeful that the event programming the center staff have planned for the year will empower, connect and activate students — all students, he said, and especially students who’ve experienced marginalization.

  • The center is launching a series of programs throughout the year that will connect Black students to mentors and to each other. This initiative kicks off on Oct. 17 in conjunction with an event that will look at intersections of the Black Lives Matter and disability justice movements. The theme centers around the question, “How can our movement be more ability-friendly to all folx?”
  • The staff is organizing a social media campaign around Indigenous Peoples Day to honor the land of the Sammamish people — also known as the Willow people — where UW Bothell is located. “The Diversity Center wants to honor the Indigenous people of our area,” Macias said, “by bringing forward their rich historical presence and the social and environmental issues still impacting them to this day.”
  • To engage womxn of color, the center is partnering with UW Bothell Career Services on Be the Boss, an initiative that supports career readiness and identity development.
  • The center will work with the Center for International Education to support international students, many of whom may be feeling uncertain about their future given the intersection of the political climate and the pandemic.
  • The center will continue its focus on the LGBTQIA+ community, and this quarter will recognize Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20 “to honor trans folks who have shaped the modern movement and who lost their lives as well as to celebrate those still among us,” Macias said.
  • Also in November, the center will hold virtual space to process the outcomes of the general election and the impact of the results on UW Bothell’s diverse communities.

“We are energized and excited to begin the year with our online affinity spaces,” said Macias. “They will be opportunities to connect students, staff and faculty who share similar identities. These connections will serve us all well throughout the year.”

Visit the Student Diversity Center website to join its Discord community and to register for specific events. Stay connected by following the Student Diversity Center on Instagram and sign up to receive its biweekly newsletter.


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