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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 15, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 3
Multicultural Center Announced

Katrina Bell McDonald, an associate professor of sociology, has been chosen to head the center, which will open in temporary space this fall.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Katrina Bell McDonald appointed associate dean to lead new initiative

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

In an effort to significantly increase the visibility and scope of Homewood's Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, the university will open a Multicultural Center, the first such facility at the campus, and has created a new position in the Office of the Dean of Student Life to lead in this area. Katrina Bell McDonald, an associate professor of sociology in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, has been appointed associate dean for multicultural affairs, a role she officially assumes today.

Initially, the Multicultural Center will be housed in the office portion of the Homewood Apartments building, located at 3003 N. Charles St., in a space used most recently by the Annual Fund. The space will be occupied this fall.

The permanent location for the Multicultural Center is slated to be 3505 N. Charles St., a building that will become vacant in summer 2010, when its current tenant, the History of Science and Technology Department, moves into the renovated Gilman Hall.

In order to move in by that date, the university has initiated a campaign to raise $3 million for the building's renovation and for program support.

The center will house in one place student groups such as the Black Student Union, OLE (the voice of the Latino student community) and the Inter-Asian Council, and will provide coherent program support. While the BSU has maintained a physical location in one of the freshman residence halls for decades, none of the other multicultural groups currently have space of their own.

Susan Boswell, dean of student life, said that the new center will allow the university to provide a broader range of multicultural services and activities to the student population. "This will become a very visible and important facility on this campus," Boswell said. "Symbolically, the new center represents the university's commitment to all students and our value of multiculturalism and diversity."

Earlier this year, Boswell led a delegation of Johns Hopkins administrators who visited a number of peer institutions to evaluate similar facilities and identified potential locations for JHU's center.

Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education, said she envisions the center as a "vibrant place" that will meet the programming and office needs of the various student groups.

"We want to create a place where we can come together as a community, and where students from all cultural backgrounds can participate in a lively exchange of ideas," she said.

Burger said that she hopes the center will create a real synergy among the multicultural groups, the way the university's religious organizations and groups have benefited from the Bunting- Meyerhoff Interfaith and Community Service Center.

McDonald, who will report to Boswell, will oversee the new center and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. In effect, McDonald replaces Rosemary Varner-Gaskins, the office's director, who recently retired.

Boswell said that the creation of the dean-level position will allow McDonald to play a much broader role in the university community and strengthen student involvement in this area.

McDonald, who joined Johns Hopkins in 1994, was the second black female ever to be awarded tenure in the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering.

She regularly teaches courses on the African-American family, contemporary race relations, qualitative research methods and researching race, class and gender. She also is an associate at the interdisciplinary Hopkins Population Center and serves on the board of the Center for Africana Studies. A member of the Diversity Leadership Council and Black Faculty and Staff Association, she also serves on the Maryland Humanities Council and is a member of the American Sociological Association.

Her recent book, Embracing Sisterhood: Class, Identity and Contemporary Black Women (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), analyzes how contemporary black women's ideas of womanhood and sisterhood merge with social class status to shape certain attachments and detachments among them. McDonald is currently involved in new research on contemporary marriage among native black, African and Caribbean couples.

McDonald earned her doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Davis in 1995. She also holds a bachelor's degree with honors in written communication from Mills College and a master's degree in applied communication research from Stanford University.

Boswell said that during the search process, the idea of recruiting a faculty member of McDonald's stature was met with immediate enthusiasm.

"I couldn't imagine a more qualified person, and I'm delighted that Katrina has accepted this new role," Boswell said.

Burger shares Boswell's enthusiasm for the appointment.

"I'm delighted to see a person of her caliber and leadership in this new role. She is a highly gifted teacher and communicator," Burger said. "She also has a clear understanding of the issues involved in multicultural affairs and a deep understanding of students, someone who is very sympathetic to their needs."

McDonald said that she will continue to teach and conduct research, splitting time between her new role and the Department of Sociology, although she foresees a reduced academic load over time.

McDonald said she is excited by the challenge of the new position and by the potential of the center.

"We have never had a physical home for multicultural affairs. I think it will undoubtedly improve the quality of cultural programming on campus," she said. "In the past, the office has done a wonderful job, but we want to reach out to far more students than we currently do and bolster the activities of these groups. This new center will allow us to do that."


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