Alongside her role as a professor at Brandeis for the course Latinos in the United States, Prof. Madeleine Lopez (HIST) also encourages learning about different cultures at the Intercultural Center as its new director. Home to 16 student organizations and the Gender and Sexuality Center, the ICC will celebrate its 25th anniversary this upcoming spring.

Based on her experience as a founding director of the Intercultural Center at Hamilton College and her time at the Center for Hispanic Excellence: La Casa Latina at the University of Pennsylvania, Lopez shared her enthusiasm for taking part in cultural communities like the one at the ICC.

“When I was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, their ICC was my home away from home. It was a place where I felt like I connected with people from my background and also a place where I learned about other communities, their ethnicities, other racial experiences,” said Lopez in an interview with the Justice.

Lopez also emphasized the differences in her experiences between creating the center at Hamilton and coming into an established organization like the ICC at Brandeis. With 25 years of history, the Brandeis programs vary in experience and longevity, as some student groups began with the founding of the ICC while others were more recently established.

Lopez explained, “It’s great that they have this space to use but also speaks to how needed this space is. All these groups come … [and they feel like] ‘We’re welcome here, we can practice our cultural customs or celebrate our heritage.’”

As each semester begins, students come from various racial, ethnic and gendered experiences to the ICC in search of these cultural communities. And even after 25 years, the ICC is still very large and active. Lopez discussed the history of the ICC and iconic yearly events such as Culture X, which takes place every spring semester (April 29 this year) and celebrates the talents of students. And for the 25th anniversary of the ICC, Lopez will be welcoming alumni and students with events on April 28 and 29 to celebrate different cultures and ethnicities.

But Lopez has already started the “year off with a bang, doing events from the Summer of Violence, which focused on the state violence against black bodies, to a discussion of the Pulse massacre and what you do when safe spaces are violated.”

Lopez continued to stress the importance of discussion regarding the differences between people — something especially important as citizens in a highly globalized society where technology enables people of different backgrounds to interact. She explained the importance of having a place where students can interact with people of different races, ethnicities and classes that they would not normally have exposure to. She recalled some of her own memories during her undergraduate experience when a piece of legislation passed in California that was very anti-Mexican and, as a Mexican, how she went to the Center for Hispanic Excellence feeling dejected and vulnerable.

“It was very hard to be one of the few latinos on campus and not feel like anybody else could see how bad it was … the director was not Latina, but she, and subsequently an African-American director, made space so we could talk about how we felt, even as I didn’t have the type of historical knowledge I have now,” Lopez said.

Through her own experiences and the recent events discussed at the ICC, she spoke on how the ICC provides a safe haven for the populations who feel vulnerable after acts of violence or other triggering events.

“No we don’t resolve things. Some things [like violence and hate] can’t have an easy solution, but you can feel safer here and learn to engage and recuperate,” said Lopez.

Lopez continued to share eye-opening moments that she experienced through learning about other cultures, such as the Native American experience when her friend started a Native American student organization and taught her about “powwows” and “fried bread”.

“My mom is Mexican, and we always went back to Mexico. I am aware of my indigenous past, but seeing the native experience in the U.S. was eye opening for me,” said Lopez. “That’s why I want everyone to come — because you never know when you will have that eye opening moment or just learn something you never thought about.”

Lopez described the ICC as, first and foremost, a space of learning. The center held its own all-day Indigenous Peoples Day Teach-In on Oct. 10 as an opportunity for the entire Brandeis community to learn and share.

“You find a way you can start processing emotion and start of thinking of ways to navigate difficult subjects. Emotional change opens in our space with facilitators, people trained for this.” Lopez continued, “We need to feel stronger and support each other through different periods. Some people don’t know how to respond, but we provide a place for people to heal and learn, as well as learn how to be an ally.”

After the interview, Lopez provided a tour for the Justice of the two-floored space where students store and prepare for events as well as relax and study. As music poured out through the speakers over the whole lounge area, Lopez guided the tour through the ICC, pointing to posters of the various discussions, photos of Culture X lining the walls and the color on the walls chosen by students. She led the Justice through a library, kitchen, computer area, sitting areas and conference rooms provided for the students.

Lopez hopes that, as a space of learning, the ICC will be used as an open space for the whole community. She explained her desire to make the ICC “a hub where people are learning and celebrating and come and engage so it’s not empty, but vibrant, just like our own cultural experiences.”