Glover Alston Center facilitates dialogue, community

Glover Alston Center

A renovated historic home infused with warm, earthy spice-inspired colors, numerous cozy and open spaces, cushy furniture, and a modern kitchen is the newest place on campus for students, clubs, faculty and staff to meet, study, cook and connect.

The Glover Alston Center, named for key donors Kari Glover ’72 and her husband, Thaddas Alston, opened Monday, Jan. 18, 2010, at 26 Boyer Ave. at the west end of the Whitman College campus.

Glover Alston Center

Quick facts:

  • Access is by keycard swipe.
  • Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends.
  • Student interns will staff the house from 3-10 p.m. daily.
  • To reserve a room for a meeting, call the Intercultural Center at 527-5596.
  • The Intercultural Center offices will remain in Reid Campus Center 216. Ben Wu ’07 will have an office in the Glover Alston Center.
  • The Intercultural Cafés on the first Tuesday of every month will be held at the Glover Alston Center.

Nearly six years in the planning, it is a gathering place in a home-like setting. That was the need identified – initially by members of various diversity clubs – and the impetus for the project’s beginning. “They were struggling to find different places to meet and have personal, private conversations,” said Mukulu Mweu, associate dean of students for intercultural programs and services. “There were very few places we were able to identify on campus where they were able to have those kinds of conversations.”

And it wasn’t just multicultural clubs experiencing that problem. Diversity clubs – from spiritual and religious groups to working class/first-generation students and Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment (FACE) – as well as many other student groups on campus identified the same concern, Mweu said.

“Reid Campus Center has the Coffeehouse. It’s hard to have a private conversation there with all the traffic,” she said. “Upstairs in Reid the rooms are basically classrooms and not very cozy.” Clubs often met at one of the Interest Houses. People who didn’t live in those houses “didn’t really feel comfortable there, but also felt like they were intruding, taking over somebody’s personal space,” Mweu said. The same was true of lounges and kitchens in the residence halls, said Ben Wu ’07, a former resident director and current program adviser of the Glover Alston Center.

Today, the students and staff who have invested thousands of hours planning the Glover Alston Center realize the potential for the house “is even bigger than what we had imagined back then,” Mweu said.

“This house is open to encourage ongoing dialogue on a multitude of issues, and all faculty, staff and students are welcome to use it and share their ideas, share their cultures and learn from one another,” Mweu said.

To encourage that interaction, planners incorporated in the design a combination of spaces: two larger open rooms off the front entrance, one with a large TV; a large kitchen and adjoining dining room; and small and medium-sized rooms upstairs for spiritual reflection, activities, meetings or individual study.

“It has a warmth to it, as if people actually live in it,” said Danny Kaplan ’10, a race and ethnic studies major and planning committee member. “I saw the house many times during its construction, but I did not expect the finished product to look so homey.”

In the planning stages, clubs and students also identified the need for a place to cook together. “With the communal kitchen, they can meet and plan together. Different clubs can cook at the same time, and students can share ideas about what’s going on with their club,” said Mweu.

“The Glover Alston Center can bridge cultures in a very relaxed atmosphere without forcing conversations,” she said. “If you’re here to study and meet a friend, and you go to the kitchen to get a cup of water and you find another group there, maybe cooking together, a conversation is likely to come out of that interaction. ‘Tell me what is this that you’re making?’ or ‘What do these spices represent?’ They will be sharing their culture in a very organic way.”

“A welcoming gathering space is important to any student organization,” said Kaplan. “As a leader in Hillel-Salom, I know the importance of a warm and functional space to maintaining interest and enjoyment. With lounge space, a movie room and a kosher kitchen, meetings and events at the Glover Alston Center should be easier to set up and a fun change of pace.”

Organizers also envision the house as having a distinctly educational component with documentary films, small-group discussions on student research and current issues, and opportunities for students to access expert speakers at events before or after lectures. “The faculty can use the dining room for seminars and programs,” said Chuck Cleveland, dean of students.

“We hope that the general campus community will feel comfortable coming to this space,” said Mweu. “This is an atmosphere that is welcoming to people from different backgrounds.” In addition to clubs, faculty members, the alumni office staff and others have already expressed interest in hosting seminars, receptions and staff retreats in the space.

And the house is the perfect setting for students, staff and faculty to “study, hang out, talk and watch TV,” Wu said.

Mweu and Wu, pausing for a moment in the rush of the center’s opening week, sit on a deep, cushy couch the shade of paprika. The gas fireplace warming the room on this chilly day is topped with a mantel rescued from the wood of a campus catalypa tree felled by a windstorm a few years ago. As they reflect on the journey that culminated in this moment and this special place, they also ponder the work yet to do: Furniture for the patio and front porch; additional furnishings, plants and homey accents inside; and funds to support programming are on the wish list.

Still, the house right now is pretty terrific.

“We hope this will be a house well used,” Mweu said.

Cleveland describes it simply this way: “It’s a place of fun and learning.”