Better together: Donor’s gift inspires collaboration and community
When veteran Illinois State student affairs professional Michael Schermer was asked if he would consider supporting the University’s new Multicultural Center, the answer was an easy one.
“I said, ‘Of course! Tell me what you want me to do,’” recalled Schermer ’73, M.S. ’78, a longtime Illinois State employee and advocate for addressing students’ needs. In recognition of his generosity, the center expected to open in summer 2021 will house the Michael D. Schermer Conference Room.
Schermer served as assistant to the vice president and dean of Student Affairs from 1974 until his retirement in 2010. During his more than 30 years at Illinois State, he also filled other roles, including associate director of the Bone Student Center/Braden Auditorium, director of Campus Recreation Services, and his most recent role as director of Career Services.
In 2002, he was named acting director of the Multicultural Center, then housed on School Street. Under his direction, much-needed makeovers were completed.
“It was originally a stand-alone small home repurposed into a multicultural center,” said Schermer. “The place needed to be totally revamped. Being the person that I am, I thought, ‘Let’s do it!’ We spruced up the facility, got new furniture, changed staffing, and brought graduate students in to help.”
One problem remained: How was the center going to get students to come to the space?
“In spite of the fact that it sat in the middle of the parking lot, nobody went in there. They had no reason to go in there,” said Schermer.
While he was envisioning a new home for the center, the University was working to create a dean of students position. The center was soon integrated with services in the Dean of Students Office and relocated to the Bone Student Center.
Schermer saw the potential for more, thanks to assessment tours of other campuses where multicultural centers were thriving.
“I always had this idea that it would be nice to have a big space that would accommodate student organization offices, staff offices, and programming space,” said Schermer. Seeing the plans for the new ISU center that will open be located at 301 South Main Street was rewarding, as he saw his dream becoming a reality.
The blueprint features a multipurpose room; gathering spaces; reflection room; meeting spaces; kitchen and serving area; and administrative offices for staff, student organizations, and satellite support services.
Schermer, who is gay, has been a longtime supporter of LGBTQ+ students. He co-founded the Safe Zone Program to educate faculty and staff about being an ally to LGBTQ+ students and is also co-founder of the LGBTQ+ Student Support Fund.
Schermer recognizes the role his identity plays in providing representation for LGBTQ+ students who utilize the space. He hopes the Michael D. Schermer Conference Room will be a place where all students can engage with each other and find a sense of belonging.
He illustrates this point by recalling a memory that inspires his philanthropy. An African American student leader with whom Schermer had worked on a variety of issues approached Schermer after he gave a talk on campus. “He came up to me after my talk and apologized to me. He said he didn’t always understand the LGBTQ+ cause, or why it was important. The student told me it dawned on him that we really weren’t all that different after all, that we were all in this together,” said Schermer.
“I know there’s a need, and my little amount isn’t going to help pay for the total project by any means, but I give what I can do because I’m committed to the program,” he said. “My little bit may encourage other people to do a little bit, especially in a place where you get so many different subsets of people to come together and make something great. I’m excited about that.”
Renovations are underway at Illinois State University’s Multicultural Center, and additional naming opportunities exist within the space. To discuss naming opportunities, contact Adam Ruble at apruble@IllinoisState.edu or (309) 438-1271 in Student Affairs.