The UNITI Cultural Center (UCC) held its ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 23 in the Stony Brook Union to celebrate the new 3,500-square-foot permanent space, funded by a three million New York State Assembly grant.
UNITI, which stands for United Nationalities in Transcending Ideologies, was established in 1978 by Stony Brook Black and Latino student organizations, faculty and staff. The mission statement of the UCC is to promote “cultural diversity, inclusion and equity at Stony Brook University, offering students a space to engage in educational, cultural and social programs on a variety of contemporary social and cultural issues.”
The ceremony was part of the activity series inaugurating the sixth president of Stony Brook University, Maurie McInnis. Roughly 100 students, faculty and staff gathered for the celebration of the new multipurpose lounge that features conference rooms, meeting spaces, group study areas and a kitchenette. The UCC is still currently under construction and will hold its grand opening for student use in February.
“We started out with a corner room in the Roth Cafeteria, which was only used for the Cultural Center and the occasional party maybe,” Carl Heastie, an alum from the Stony Brook class of 1990, said. Heastie is the first African American speaker of the New York State Assembly and an original member of the UCC. For him, it was a place of community, one where students came together to laugh, cry, plan, find solace in one another and find each other.
“We found ways to foster meaningful relationships with the things that we had in common and official ideas,” JR Dorsainvil, a representative for the Stony Brook Black and Latino Alumni network and a former member of the UCC said. “It was a place where we could foster these ideas, develop these ideas and congregate.”
The grant was provided by Heastie and assembly members Steven Englebright, Kimberly Jean-Pierre and Latoya Joyner, who graduated from Stony Brook in 1975, 2007 and 2008 respectively. They were all honored with a plaque in the new UCC to commend their efforts in securing the funds for the center.
With nearly 100 cultural student organizations on campus, the UCC space will be a key space for students to collaborate and work on projects.
“We have always been a university that recognizes the importance of an inclusive, multicultural education and community, a university that knows the value and unparalleled potential for discovery that comes with a diverse population of faculty, students and staff,” McInnis said. “Now more than ever I want us to rely on and uphold this integral part of our mission.”
Assembly members closed the ceremony offering their thanks and final addresses and then officially cut the ribbon.
Afterwards, attendees took tours and enjoyed light refreshments in the new UCC home, taking in the new ambiance and commemorating the efforts that made the facility possible. As much as the ceremony marked the beginning of new opportunities for current students, it also honored the alumni and original members of the UCC who created the foundations for this center.
“I really want the students who are here today to understand that this is a place that students built. It wasn’t built by administration, it was built by students, for students,” Dorsainvil said, later adding that alumni “helped build the center that we are standing in and celebrating today.”
Dorsainvil also commented on the theme of returning to a full campus.
“It’s important that we recognize and acknowledge them for their work, and we use them as examples to show our alumni community what we can accomplish when we come back to campus,” Dorsainvil said.