In January University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) moved to a new space. Now in June, the cultural hub on campus is not only a new director, but a new name.
On June 6, Dean of Students John T. Kirkpatrick announced the changes in a statement. First, OMSA has been renamed The Beauregard Center, after a student named Aulbani J. Beauregard who passed away in early 2019.
“All who knew her were cheered by her effervescence, good will toward all and the sheer joy she found in life. She was a force in our community, refreshing to see in a first-year student,” wrote Kirkpatrick. He said both the naming of the Beauregard Center and the magnolia tree planted in her memory “are fitting ways to honor Aulbani’s deep commitment to equity, justice and good will in a troubled world.”
Additionally, Kirkpatrick announced Caché Owens-Velasquez, the search committee’s top choice, as The Beauregard Center’s new director. Owens-Velasquez earned her doctorate in Urban and Regional Analysis from the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte, has a background in community planning and urban development, and has focused on the areas of education, inclusion, equity, and cultural responsiveness.
Owens-Velasquez, who is originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, will be making the move from Charlotte to the Seacoast area later this month, along with her wife, Cynthia, 10-year-old son Jonah, and her three rescue dogs. She said the whole family is excited about the move. “It’s going to be a new chapter not just for me, but for all of us,” she said.
A key part of Owens-Velasquez’s position at UNC-Charlotte was working to foster university-community partnerships. This included neighborhood improvement research projects – she described following the lead of marginalized community members in Charlotte, and working a lot in predominantly African American neighborhoods that were low income and had been marginalized by the city in different ways. She said, “they brought the ‘lived’ experience and their day-to-day expertise and we brought our technical expertise and theory and tried to merge those two together to work on some neighborhood improvement research projects.”
She said she is excited about the idea of fostering more connections between the Beauregard Center and the Seacoast community. “I really want to make it a resource not just for everybody on campus but for the Seacoast community, that if there’s a need or a desire to talk about something equity- or justice-related that people think of the Center as a go-to resource,” she said.
For the past few years, Owens-Velasquez has been teaching a class at UNC-Charlotte that focuses on both critical thinking and citizenship, and asks students to analyze and discuss social justice issues and complete a community-based project. She described the skills she had developed as a result, including “facilitating difficult conversations” and “creating safe spaces for different points of view.” She said, “I think bringing those skills to UNH, especially in the climate that we’re in right now, I think that that’s something I hope to put to good use.”
In her free time, Owens-Velasquez likes to create art and loves watching stand-up comedy with her son; “I always say in my next life I would try to get on Saturday Night Live,” she joked. She has recently begun baking, after watching The Great British Baking Show. “I’ve been telling people, there’s gonna be a lot of sweets in the Beauregard Center once I’m there because I’ve started to convince myself I’m a great baker,” she laughed.
Owens-Velasquez said she is very excited to work with the Beauregard Center’s staff and students. She said this is an exciting time to come into UNH, where there are a lot of senior leadership positions that have been newly filled or are in the process of being filled. “We’re in a time where the country as a whole has a renewed focus on justice, and so I’m just really excited to dig in to some of these really complicated issues and lift up voices of students at UNH who maybe feel like they haven’t had as much of a voice in the past, to really engage in that work in a time when it’s so important across the whole country,” she said.
She plans to begin engaging with faculty and students starting with a lot of listening, and getting to know the projects and initiatives that have been going on already, so she is able to offer as much support as she can. Owens-Velasquez says she is always open to ideas and thoughts from others, and plans to have an open door.
“I really hope that we can go in a direction that would make our namesake proud, I never got to meet her but I’ve just heard so many amazing things about her spirit. I would hope that the Center could be a national model for how universities can play a key role in working towards equity and justice,” she said.