UW–Madison’s Red Gym acts are cultural hub on campus

The Red Gym houses diverse groups

The striking brick exterior of the University of Wisconsin Armory and Gymnasium, commonly referred to as the Red Gym, has a distinctive color that defines the iconic University of Wisconsin-Madison building on Langdon Street. Inside, you’ll find a kaleidoscope of cultures that add color.

Since its time as a gymnasium and armory for male students training for the military between the 1890s and 1970s, the Red Gym has been transformed as a gathering place for students of color. While the Romanesque Revival style that characterizes the castle-like building may signal that the Red Gym is a relic of the past, it is anything but. It is rather a place where students of color, LGBTQ students and international students can find resources and communities.

Following a series of racist incidents on campus in the 1980s, students of color organized in solidarity to demand the creation of a student center where five American minorities — African Americans, American Indians, Chicanos, Asian Americans and Puerto Ricans — could gather and access cultural resources. More than 30 years after the establishment of the Multicultural Student Center, the Red Gym now also houses International Student Services, the Black Cultural Center, the Gender and Sexuality Center and the startup spaces for the Latinx Cultural Center and the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American, or APIDA, Student Center, which were inaugurated earlier this year.

Inspired in part by the success of the Black Cultural Center that reopened in 2017, APIDA and Latinx students on campus began advocating for spaces that could create safe environments for and foster discussion and innovation within their communities. “Being able to know yourself … is something that I think is really important, especially in terms of your social and ethnic identity,” says Jonathan Godinez, one of Latinx Cultural Center’s four founders.

For UW-Madison student Riley Tsang, finding his identity and exploring his culture also means learning to recognize internalized racism and to confront issues facing his communities. That’s one reason he advocated for the APIDA Cultural Center.

“The thing with APIDA culture is that it’s less of a ‘we’re celebrating things in the past’ [and more of] a ‘we’re recognizing a shared community that’s on campus currently,'” Tsang says.

This article is part of the May 2019 cover story, “50 Things That Give Madison Color.” Click here for the full story.