Logic is an interesting phenomenon. The current logic regarding reconfiguring the Black House sounds a little something like this.
- The “struggle” as defined by more tenured alumni just doesn’t exist to the extent it once did, and thus the need for the types of services once housed in the Black House are no longer relevant.
- The Black House isn’t being utilized much anymore.
- Some small but increasing number of Black students no longer see the value in the Black House.
Relevance is often defined by perceived value, and in this example the obvious question is “What is the ongoing value of the Black House for African-African students?” First, let’s review the need for services.
- According to the University’s own data, African-American students still are disproportionately and adversely affected by issues of mental health and sexual assault.
- Unlike others under the “multicultural umbrella” (i.e. Asian Americans and Latinos), African-Americans are admitted, enrolled and underrepresented on campus relative to their proportion in the general population, including considerations of University faculty and staff. This underrepresentation leads to ongoing challenges around cultural sensitivity and lack of professor-student teaching compatibility.
- African-Americans are still more likely to be from both urban and underprivileged populations than other segments of the University community and thus have greater needs for cultural acclimation to the University environment.
- In recent years, the make-up of Black students has also changed. A greater number of Blacks from the Caribbean, the continent of Africa and other countries around the world now comprise the demographic of “Blacks” on the University campus along with the U.S. Blacks (African-Americans). It is fair to say that this has altered the collective view of “Blacks” on campus (and in fact the new collective may not identify with the historic struggle of “African-Americans” in total), but the need for services and the University to provide them remain the same.
The irony of focusing the conversations to be had at the Black House Listening Sessions on the utilization of the Black House is that it distracts from the real conversation needing to be had: improving the student experience and opportunities for success. For generations, the Black House has actually been the one constant that has worked in providing Black students the support necessary to navigate through the University. In this way, the Black House is no different and every bit as valuable as Fratland is for its residents and Hillel is for the Jewish student community. Yet it is the Black House that is under siege. Again.
Now let’s consider the readiness of the Black House to fulfill its stated purposes. The Black House has been neglected perhaps unlike most any other building on campus. Have you heard about the leaks? When was the last time it got a fresh paint job? Where are the technological advancements to support students? Quite the contrary: the Black House has been systematically eroded as a viable resource for students, so much so that it is fair for students to note that it isn’t as valuable of a resource as they’d like. However, is that an indictment on the House itself on or the University for neglecting it?
Did you know:
- In 2004, the Department of African-American Student Affairs was eliminated.
- The Dean of African-American Student Affairs was downgraded to a Director.
- The position of Director of African-American Student Affairs has been vacated and will not be replaced (as such, who exactly is supposed to facilitate the efforts needed to make the Black House viable?).
- In subsequent years, the University has pivoted to a philosophy of multiculturalism, and most of the resources of the Black House have been diverted to support that philosophy. Changes in the Black House itself are meant to follow suit.
- Students, staff explicitly employed for Black Student support, and FMO Satellites (student organizations) once occupied the entirety of the Black House. It was considered a safe haven for students, a home on campus, a center of social activity and a central location for Student Affairs services targeted to meet the unique needs of a community disadvantaged and negatively affected by adverse and often hostile conditions on campus. Incrementally this space is being encroached upon to where the Black House now hosts more staff offices than student spaces. The proposed changes would completely eliminate the safe haven consideration, the FMO office would not be a locked space, and the addition of proposed services such as an office for Social Justice would turn the Black House into a space utilized and populated in a manner similar to most any other building on campus.
Instead of systematically dismantling the services within the Black House and creating a self-fulfilling prophesy of the Black House being less relevant to students and less utilized, perhaps the conversation should be “How can we enhance services to Black students in a way that improve the student experience, modernizes it and keeps it relevant for a new generation (and composition) of Black students.” Furthermore, there is honor in the University maintaining its commitments made in 1968. Whether intentional or not, dismantling the icon most practically and symbolically representing that commitment just two years shy of the 50th Anniversary of the May 3rd/4th Agreements of 1968 sends a chilling message about the University’s priorities and level of respect for the University African-American community. Those that sacrificed so much so current and future students can live a different existence deserve your input into the process, regardless of the outcome.
The next post will discuss our proposal for a viable Black House. In the meantime, please plan on attending as many of the Black House Listening Sessions as you can. It is our formal means of providing input to the conversation.
There are four listening sessions:
- Session 1: Oct. 14, 12:00 – 1:30 pm Parkes Hall, Room 122, 1870 Sheridan Rd.
- Session 2: Oct. 14, 6:00 – 7:30 pm Parkes Hall, Room 122, 1870 Sheridan Rd.
- Session 3: Nov. 16, 12:00 – 1:30 pm Norris Center, Wildcat Room (101), 1999 Campus Dr.
- Session 4: Nov. 20, 5:00 – 6:30 pm Scott Hall, Guild Lounge, 601 University Place
Thank you for your support of Northwestern, its students and NUBAA.