Sacred Heart opens new multicultural center

FAIRFIELD—Sacred Heart University’s new multicultural center celebrates diversity and provides an inclusive space for everyone in the SHU community.

The center officially opened in September with a small, socially-distanced, ribbon-cutting ceremony. Afterward, administrators and students marveled at the new space and admired artwork depicting various cultures and ethnicities. Located in the Main Academic Building, the center’s purpose is to bring people together.

“Thanks for showing your support and love,” said Robert Johnson ’16, ’17, director of the center and multicultural affairs. “This is a great step in the right direction.”

Johnson, a former SHU admissions counselor, is responsible for all inclusivity programs and services the center provides, including creation of an undergraduate mentor program. He said his primary objective is to establish the center as a place where underrepresented students can find a sense of belonging.

As an alumnus of color, Johnson said he remembers times when he didn’t feel like he belonged. Even though he was on the football team and in a fraternity, he wished there was somewhere he could go to share experiences with people like him, he said. “If underrepresented students have those feelings, I want to them to know that they can come here and they will be supported,” said Johnson.

President John J. Petillo said he believes the center’s mission of inclusivity will be carried out in all aspects of the University, especially student life. “I am confident of the role the multicultural center will have at Sacred Heart,” he said.

The center also will enable students, staff and faculty to make connections and learn about one another’s cultures and backgrounds. Johnson is working closely with campus organizations such as the Black Student Union and La Hispanidad. Leaders from both clubs were present at the ceremony and spoke about their excitement for the new center.

“My hope is to create a sustained change that will outlast us all,” Johnson told the audience. He encouraged the group to challenge themselves and confront their biases to help create that change.

Father Anthony Ciorra, vice president for mission integration, ministry and multicultural affairs, said the new center is place where all are welcome. “There are so many divisions in our country and in our world,” said Ciorra. “I don’t want to see divisions creep onto the University.”

After the ceremonial ribbon-cutting, guests continued to gaze at the art on the walls. Mary Treschitta, assistant professor and chair of the art and design program, was charged with designing the space. She believed the walls wrapped with impactful multicultural images of people from around the world should immerse its visitors. “That was my goal,” she said. “Before you walk inside the center, you are confronted with large colorful portraits, to really spark people’s interest. Then, as they walk in, the central mural really just strikes them.”

Treschitta carefully chose beautiful portraits of diverse individuals, which she assembled in a collage. Then she layered quotes from social justice warriors and leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., over the images.

The completed product is a technical feat, she said, as the installation was tricky to create. Visual Impact, a business in Danbury, owned by Bill McCann, that handles visual communication and installation, printed the images on large print-and-stick substrate. Then a skilled group of professionals applied the images to the walls and added the quotes. “The whole crew was excellent” and brought her vision to life, Treschitta said.

As people walk into the center, Treschitta said, the images pull them in. They can walk around the room, explore, engage and feel surrounded by multiculturalism, she said.

“I really loved this project and the final product,” she said. “We are truly all brothers and sisters on this Earth for a short time.”

To download an image, visit SHU’s Photoshelter archive.