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Cultural centers take center stage as places of support and celebration

Students participate and share their smiles in February 2023 on a day when Sac State celebrated their cultures and gave renewed support to important segments of the student body. (Sacramento State file/Bibiana Ortiz)

The opening, re-opening, and anticipated opening of centers supporting and celebrating Asian, Black, and Native American students and their supporters has enhanced Sacramento State's standing as a cultural hub.

In late February, the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Student Center opened, and the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Center celebrated a major expansion. The 'Esak'tima Center, which will serve Native Americans, is scheduled to open later this year. Lassen Hall is home to all the centers.

The centers stand as examples of the University's professed commitment to success for students who traditionally have been underserved in higher education.

The APIDA and MLK events on Feb. 28 featured an array of festivities and speakers.

"Sac State values its students," said state Assemblymember Stephanie Nguyen. "Otherwise, there wouldn't be an APIDA Center. Surround yourself by people who value you."

Because about 20% of its students identify as APIDA, Sac State is a federally designated Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution, which makes the University eligible for grants to support those students.

"We have created an opportunity for our students to thrive and affirm the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." -- Marcellene Watson-Derbigny, associate vice president for Student Retention and Academic Success

Building on the tradition of Sac State's Full Circle Project and Project HMONG, the APIDA Center offers a range of support, including helping students with the transition from high school or community college, offering referrals for resources on and off the campus, and providing college skills coaching and referrals to graduate schools, among many other services.

The center will sponsor events such as API Welcome Week, API College Day, an API Leadership Summit and an API Speaker Series.

At the MLK Center, Sac State partners with local businesses and community organizations to assist students in making college and career connections. In addition, the center aims to foster a sense of belonging, inclusion, and cultural empowerment for students.

The MLK Center is among the largest in the CSU system, said Marcellene Watson-Derbigny, associate vice president for Student Retention and Academic Success.

"We have created an opportunity for our students to thrive and affirm the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," she said.

The 'Esak'tima Center will provide support services to assist Native American students on their college journeys. It will offer academic advising, workshops, scholarship referrals, cultural presentations and more at a place that resides on Native American land.

Each of the centers will offer students a cultural experience that will help them know that they are valued and included on campus, said Chao Vang, director of Educational Equity Access at the University.

"This will give parents and students a sense of calm, and a soft handoff into college," Vang said.

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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