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Community members worry over MSSC staffing, funding after Pickett departure

Auden Yurman | Senior Photo Editor
A sign welcomes students to the GW Multicultural Student Services Center’s fifth-floor lounge.

After the sudden resignation of former Multicultural Student Services Center Director Dustin Pickett, community members and former staff said the center has faced years of funding challenges and staff turnover.

Students were optimistic for the future of the MSSC at the one-year mark of Pickett’s term in October. He planned to expand the MSSC’s offerings to the Mount Vernon and Virginia Science and Technology campuses and strengthen the center’s LGBTQ+ and religious support. But following his abrupt departure, former and current community members who utilized the center said his departure reflects the MSSC’s shrinking autonomy from the University, which thwarts the center’s ability to support cultural student organizations.

After Pickett’s resignation, only one full-time staff member — Student Program Associate Elise Greenfield — remains in the center after the MSSC’s LGBTQ+ resource leader AJ King left for a position at Howard University in December.

Pickett did not return requests for comment regarding the reason for his resignation. 

Former MSSC Director Michael Tapscott, who retired last year after serving 19 years in the role, said Pickett and current MSSC staff were moving in the right direction to improve programming and relationships with student organizations coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pickett’s departure is “heartbreaking,” he said.

“It was a really magical place for a lot of years,” Tapscott said. “I felt like Dustin was getting that back, if not better. He was doing some great work.”

Tapscott said the MSSC has faced low staffing since 2019, when about three employees left the division. He said following 2019, officials removed the administrative coordinator and program coordinator roles from the formerly five-person full-time staff.

“All of those people had multiple years, great reviews, loved by the community, really iconic people,” Tapscott said. “But 2019, people were looking at the MSSC and how it was functioning and it just evidently became an uncomfortable place to work.”

Tapscott said the decline in staff and return from COVID-19 created a loss of continuity for the MSSC, forcing Pickett to start “fresh” when he entered the position.

“The fact that there’s been a lot of movement in this particular division is disconcerting,” Tapscott said. “That’s where the issue lies. And that’s where the issue has to be addressed.”

A University spokesperson said officials will launch a search to fill the vacancies in the center’s administration and are working to address the staffing needs on an interim basis in the meantime. The spokesperson said the center will continue normal operations and leaders within the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement will temporarily fill in the administrative gaps.

The spokesperson declined to comment on why Pickett resigned, how officials will remedy the center’s low staffing and what officials will prioritize when seeking a new director. The spokesperson also declined to say why officials removed the administrative coordinator and program coordinator positions in 2019.

“The MSSC plays a crucial role within the GW community, and we are committed to its success,” the University spokesperson said in an email. “We invite students to engage in the space, attend programs, and utilize all resources available.”

Tapscott said he hopes that Pickett’s brief tenure in the position sends a message to officials about the MSSC’s challenges with low staffing. He said officials need to show a “demonstrated commitment” to the division.

“The role of a multicultural center, particularly on a campus like GW, is really critical,” Tapscott said. “It takes staffing and it takes funding and it takes support to ensure that it’s there in its place.”

Michelle Yamamoto, a junior and a co-president of the Chinese American Student Association, said the organization recently started working with the MSSC. A week before his resignation, she had a Zoom call with Pickett about what support the center could provide to the group to put on their annual Lunar New Year banquet at the beginning of February.

But now she is unsure of the status of the MSSC’s support for CASA with Pickett gone. She said cultural organizations will “definitely feel the loss of support,” adding that the University does not treat its staff of color well, particularly in the MSSC, which doesn’t have “a ton” of funding.

“I hope that they make some changes and, I don’t know why they left or anything, but just I hope they’re treating their staff well, and also actively looking to fill those spots because I think that all the cultural orgs really need a hub like the MSSC,” Yamamoto said.

Senior Raheel Abubakar, the president of the Muslim Students’ Association, said he said goodbye to Pickett in person Thursday. He said people involved with the MSSC will prosper in the future as long as Pickett’s vision for the organization continues.

“Dustin has been such an incredible director,” Abubakar said. “He is such a lovely man to speak to. He has been so unendingly supportive and I couldn’t imagine the MSSC without him. He’s one of the people that I look forward to go see when I see the MSSC, and I think that a lot of how much the MSSC has improved in the last year has been a result of his efforts.”

Laine Schlezinger, a junior and the president of Transgender and Non-Binary Students, said they felt “apprehensive” upon hearing about Pickett’s sudden resignation. They said when King left GW in December, officials told the group that Pickett would be their primary point of contact to seek support from for their larger upcoming events like Trans Day of Visibility in the spring, leaving members now uncertain of whom to reach out to.

“Him leaving: That left us, as TNBS, wondering where is our contact at the center,” Schlezinger said. “Obviously with only one full-time staff member it’s like okay, we don’t want to overwhelm this person, but we have a chain of command and just over the past few months through expected and unexpected means, that’s definitely been dissolved.”

Dina Grossman, a senior and the president of Kehila, an LGBTQ+ Jewish student organization, said King created a group chat before his departure with all of the LGBTQ+ organizations on campus to increase collaboration and communication between the groups. The chat has gone silent since King’s departure, she said.

Grossman said she is disappointed to see Pickett and King leave and was excited about the direction they were taking the center, especially following the opening of the new gender-affirming closet in the LGBTQ+ resource room last week.

“I hope that the leadership is quickly instituted in a way that picks up where Dustin and AJ left it off because it seemed like they were moving in a really nice trajectory, getting the new space and everything,” Grossman said.

Ianne Salvosa and Rory Quealy contributed reporting.

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About the Contributors
Fiona Bork, Assistant News Editor
Fiona Bork is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication from San Diego, California. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Life beat.
Ianne Salvosa, News Editor
Ianne Salvosa is a junior majoring in journalism and international affairs from Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editor for the Administration and Finance beat. She previously served as an assistant news editor for the Administration and Finance beat and a contributing news editor for the Academics and Administration beats for Vol. 119.
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