The nearly abandoned Human Rights Center (HRC) may be given a second life so that it can once again be a productive space for political discussion and organization.
Many of the clubs that once used the space have moved out into their own cultural centers, such as Students for Sustainability and MEChA.
The leading force of this project is Fiona Munro, a senior who felt the need to revitalize the space after seeing various groups leave it throughout her years at Knox. Munro believes it is important the school’s population can remain involved with political activism.
“There is kind of a need for this kind of space on campus where a lot of people with diverse activism interests could come discuss those interests,” Munro said.
Currently, the HRC has become desolate and holds remnants of past organizations with abandoned posters and books that have collected dust. The Knox WikiFire even has a section dedicated to the rats and bats that have made the HRC their home. The HRC has always been a nonresidential cultural center, unlike groups such as ABLE and Casa Latina.
“The use of the space isn’t very good,” Munro said.
Use of the phrase “cultural center” to define the HRC has also confused Munro. The center had always housed groups with missions of social justice and equal rights. Although cultural groups may have used it, that was not the ultimate purpose of the center. The discontinued website of the HRC describes its purpose to be an “outlet for progressive thought, open-minded discussions and human rights activism.”
“Currently, the HRC is defined as a cultural center. I don’t think that makes a lot of sense. There is nothing especially cultural about it,” Munro said.
Munro has been garnering support from other student organizations alongside the help of Tianna Cervantez, Director of Intercultural Life. Cervantez started at Knox 11 years ago with the use of the HRC fluctuating throughout her time here.
Depending on the groups that were active, there were usually about five to eight organizations making use of the center — compared to the two to three using it currently. As a way to form a connection between all those groups, a so-called “task force” was created with a member from each group being a part of it to make sure everyone is respecting the space and staying true to their mission of social justice. That, and to also maintain communication with each group using the space. This task force was useful for accountability, especially since each organization had their own individual advisor.
After a couple years of Cervantez being at Knox, some groups using the space had expressed a lack of commitment from others, and she had been asked to intervene as a reminder of their purpose. Some time between 2012 and 2014, the task force between clubs began to disintegrate. As a result, communication also began to fall apart, both between other groups as well as within the groups.
“I don’t know that through the years, organizations have communicated very clearly with the rest of their membership about their relationship [with the HRC],” said Cervantez.
Cervantez was also involved with previous efforts to revitalize the space by former student Alex Davis. At the time, the other student organizations did not express much of an interest in coalescing. Now, Cervantez is excited to help Munro go through with what Davis began.
On top of student organizations moving to other spaces, there have been whispered frustrations towards the lack of political activism on campus in recent years. Knox has a history of engaging in activism, and that is a reputation that many students wish to uphold.
“Our students are social justice oriented. They are committed to changing and making things better, and we have a lot of students that are interested in that. Not just within organizations, but also on a personal level,” Cervantez said.
Munro’s vision involves the HRC being used as a coalition for political activist groups to come together in a space for discussion and organization. In many ways, it would resemble the original structure of the HRC. Groups could come to the center as a neutral planning space under one common factor Ñ The mission to engage in activism.
The process would include both a conceptual and literal revitalization of the space. This means that groups using the space would be established, while the center itself would be cleaned up and removed of items left behind by clubs that do not exist anymore.
Conversations are being held between Munro and other student groups with positive feedback. Cervantez is excited to see how these efforts play out and to have students that are passionate about causes they care about.