Ramses Ovalles, 2019-20 vice president of finance, and Abdul Omar Tucker are both members of various organizations related to the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) who want to see an improvement in the office’s home, Gilbert Hall.
The students say Gilbert Hall holds irreplaceable, sentimental value to the members of MSA.
According to Shippensburg University’s website, Gilbert Hall was built in 1912 when it was used for an elementary training school on campus. The Office of Minority Student Affairs was created in 1989 by then-university President Anthony Ceddia in response to the growing need to address cultural and social needs of black students.
The building is now mainly used for MSA, with the exercise science department using the upstairs classrooms.
Ovalles said during the 1960s, when Shippensburg University was still segregated, “The AM” — a moderate-sized room in Gilbert Hall — was the only place where black students were allowed.
“Gilbert Hall is the fifth-oldest building on campus, and has seen several updates in recent years to modernize the building,” said Kim Garris, chief external affairs officer.
This includes a fire suppression system, which most of the older buildings on campus do not have.
However, the students in Gilbert Hall cannot help but wonder when it will be their beloved building’s turn for major renovations. Just on the other side of Old Main is Stewart Hall, which is being renovated through funding from the Shippensburg University Foundation, alumni, friends and businesses. Additional funding was provided by the university, but Garris did not identify the amount in a recent email correspondence.
Ovalles and Tucker walked through the paint-chipped hallways of Gilbert pointing out the deteriorating conditions including broken tables and window screens to over-active heating units, still spewing out heat on 75-degree days.
Various MSA students said Gilbert Hall is almost always filled with students studying or hanging out. The building offers office spaces, student recreational areas and study locations including a computer lab.
“We throw everything here,” Ovalles said.
Ovalles spoke of how the AM in Gilbert is home to minority students who he said feel overwhelmed on a predominately white campus.
“When you step into this room, it feels like a relief of stress and anxiety,” Ovalles explained.
Ovalles and Tucker both shared their own stories of how MSA helped keep them at SU.
The transition from urban cities to a small town in central Pennsylvania can lead to minority students not feeling at home, according to Ovalles.
“A lot of us are still here because of MSA and Miss Di,” he said.
Ovalles and Tucker praised MSA Director Diane Jefferson and Assistant to the Director Kapri Brown.
“They don’t work regular hours. They’re always here, catering to what the students need,” Ovalles said.
Both students added that Jefferson and Brown often buy needed items for the AM with their own money, including curtains, couches and tables.
“A lot of us came from homes where we didn’t have the best stuff,” Tucker said. “But we still take care of what we have.”
When asked if he or other members of MSA had spoken with the administration, Ovalles said he should not have to.
“We shouldn’t have to ask as students. We’re two doors down from Old Main, they pass us when they go to their cars,” he said.
Despite having less than desirable conditions, Ovalles explained that MSA still provides a large amount of programming for students.
“I think it really affects our mentality of who the university values most,” he said.
“It makes me question our value to Shippensburg University,” Tucker added.
Ovalles further explained his frustration with the administration.
“The university is doing great things, but why are they doing those things? Are they doing them just to make themselves look better?” he asked.
Ovalles said he is grateful for Gilbert designation as the home of MSA, but he also wants to see it grow into something bigger.
Both Ovalles and Tucker want to see Gilbert transformed into a Multicultural Student Center, similar to the center at Kutztown University, Shippensburg’s Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) sister school.
Garris said in a recent email that work is “ongoing.”
“Exterior work is ongoing at Gilbert to repair and repaint the original woodwork. Inside, there are plans to repair walls and paint several locations,” she said. “Within the last 12 months, air conditioning was added to all classroom space.” However, the AM is not included in that classroom space.
Ovalles and the members of MSA understand that a change may not be immediate and may not be drastic.
“We know that change might not be able to be made right away, but we just want to hear a plan or a commitment,” Ovalles said.