Coalition of Minority Students Creates New Resource Center on NVU’s Johnson Campus

A Safe Space for Learning and Growth for NVU Community

The dedication of the Mamadou N’Diaye Resource Center brought the Northern Vermont University Johnson Campus community together to celebrate this new space for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students. Created by the Coalition of Minority Students (COMS) as a safe place for people of color in a predominantly white campus community, the resource center is named in memory of a former NVU student.

“It’s scary to be in a place where a lot of people don’t look like you,” said Devyn Thompson, COMS co-president and third-year English major from Waldorf, Md. who is also pursuing licensure in secondary education. “I want that room to provide a sense of relief. I don’t want any student of color here to feel unsupported. Seeing my goal for this resource center and in his name coming to fruition is a dream,” Thompson said.

Mamadou N’Diaye was a rising sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Media Arts who also played basketball for the Badgers. He died in a drowning accident in July of 2020 out of state. COMS began as a group for minority student-athletes after Mamadou’s death and has expanded to support all minority students on campus. The group also includes non-BIPOC students as well; these members are called “allies.”

The new center is an academic and mental health resource space that will serve as a haven for COMS members and as a place to host events open to all students, faculty, staff, and community members to educate themselves on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion principals.

Zoe Avent, a COMS member and first-year political science major from Springfield, Vt., sees the resource center “as a place for conversations about how to speak up for others, as a space for people to feel safe talking about their experiences, even if they aren’t a person of color. I want people to feel safe coming to us to talk, learn, and educate themselves and us.”

COMS members hope the resource center will be a place that “demonstrates the true definition of what inclusion looks like,” said COMS Staff Advisor Brian Slater.

Students transformed the room over February break — cleaning it, painting the walls — one black, one yellow, one splatter paint, and one in a line design, and claiming the space as their own, Thompson said. A photo of Mamadou hangs on one wall. A basketball signed by the women’s and men’s basketball teams, coaching staff, and managers in his memory sits in a protected glass case.

Priya Tamang-Suarez, a sophomore studying biology pre-med, says, “COMS gave me a safe, comfort space that I needed as a freshman, it took me out of my shell. I’m happy the resource center finally came together. It will bring students the support system they need for information related to DEI, and it’s good to have an organization for all students to learn about DEI issues — to learn about a history they don’t know,” she said. “Growth involves uncomfortable topics.”

“It’s a proud moment, watching the growth of these students,” Slater said. “I want to make sure that this isn’t a stopping point in the work.”

Thompson, who not only spearheaded this effort on campus but put many hours of work into the successful adoption of the Anti-Racism Pledge by the Vermont State Colleges System Board of Trustees, has this message for minority athletes considering NVU: “Despite this being a predominantly white university, you belong here and are supported here, your mental health and academic experience are supported here.”

“I am so pleased the Resource Center was named after this outstanding young man, and the care that went into creating it has been exemplary,” said Interim President John W. Mills. “The creation of this space is also a statement by NVU of our commitment to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) pledge we have made in our Mission Statement.”