After the Black House Listening Sessions, a committee chaired by Charles Whitaker, distinguished Medill professor and alumnus (’80, ‘81), put together an extensive report with recommendations based on the input provided at the Sessions. The report was submitted to the President, Provost and Vice-President of Student Affairs. Here, without alteration, is the Executive Summary from that report. Please join NUBAA in generously offering thanks, feedback and support to all the members of the committee.
Black to the Future:
Recommendations for Northwestern University’s Black House Purpose, Programming and Facilities, 2016-2020
Submitted on April 1, 2016 to
Vice President for Student Affairs
Prepared by the members of the Black House Review Committee*
Henry Binford, WCAS professor, History
Cariana Chambers, student, SESP ‘17
Ce Cole Dillon, alumna, SESP ‘78
Jazzy Johnson, alumna, SoC ‘13
Abdul Kelani, student, WCAS ‘16
Opeyemi Kusoro, alumnus, McCormick ‘13
Kevin Luong, student, WCAS ‘16
Kimberley Rudd, alumna, Medill ‘88
Pleshette Strong, student, Kellogg, ‘16 ; WCAS, ‘15
Charles Whitaker, Medill professor and alumnus, ’80, ‘81
Yjaden Wood, student, WCAS ‘16
*In volunteer service at the request of the Department of Student Affairs
In recent years, the utility of The Black House was called into question by some administrators (and, to be fair, others) who maintained that the facility no longer adequately served the needs of contemporary students of African descent. That thinking led to proposed changes at The Black House that unleashed a firestorm in Northwestern’s community of African-American students and alumni.
In response to the outpouring of fury, Dr.Patricia Telles-Irvin, Vice President Student Affairs, announced the establishment of a series of four “listening sessions” held during the fall term, 2015. Those feedback sessions were terminated early, in light of the palpable anguish expressed by Black students and alumni.
Dr. Telles-Irvin announced the abandonment of the proposed changes and amended the committee’s charge to be the development of recommendations related to the improvement of The Black House in accordance with some of the concerns about the facility that were expressed during the listening sessions. The committee responsible for this report was assembled at Dr. Telles-Irvin’s behest to consider the feedback from the listening sessions and develop recommendations related to the efficacy of The Black House and the proposed changes.
This is a summary of our report.
In light of what we heard in the Listening Sessions, the committee was able to quickly agree that the focus of the report should be on four specific areas:
- Facility & Structural Issues
The Committee supplemented information heard in the listening tours with pedagogical research. The committed noted in its report that “[t]here is a significant body of students affairs literature to support the idea that the sense of racial identity – meaning how one views and understands one’s own racial group as well as members of other racial groups – are important to the psychosocial development of college students, particularly students of color.”
Along with pedagogical research, the Committee included best practice data from seven Northwestern University peer institutions. The Committee also submitted statements from the three former Associate Deans and Directors of African American Student Affairs: Milton J. Wiggins, Dr. Alice J. Palmer and Karla Spurlock-Evans.
Summary of Committee Recommendations
The Committee made recommendations in the following areas:
The boldest recommendation to the University is a reaffirmation of its commitment to its African-American stakeholders by redefining The Black House as a campus cultural center. The Black House as a cultural center should be an exemplary facility, meaning that it should have the sort of sustained University support and resources that would make it integral to the University’s mission and enable it to fend off threats to its existence and continuity. The Committee believes that there are certain themes that would make The Black House Cultural Center a crown jewel amongst the University’s academic and sociocultural offerings. Major recommendations include the re-establishment of an Associate Dean of African-American Student Affairs position, the formation of a board of advisors for the Black House (comprised of alumni, faculty and other stakeholders), the creation of a Center of Leadership Training at the Black House, and the development of programs around academic support, scholars-in-residence and community engagement.
II. Facility & Structural Improvements
The report offered a floor-by-floor assessment of the space and ideas for repurposing and/or upgrading rooms to better accommodate the needs of current and future Black students. Major recommendations include the installation of an elevator for ADA compliance, upgraded electrical systems, and a renovated, soundproofed basement to allow for an arts programming and practice space there.
Citing insufficient technology in the Black House to accommodate student needs, the report recommends software essential to specific fields of study, the installation of a “freenters” station and iPad rentals.
Stressing the importance of the acquisition, preservation and exhibition of memorabilia and oral histories about the Black student experience at NU, the report offered support of the NUBAA Archival Plan, and recommended stronger ties with the University’s archivists, a campaign to recruit materials from alumni, and the use of Black House walls, way-finding signs and rooms to display historical information.
Closing Thoughts: The Opportunity
The vision of the future of the Black House was offered in the hope that it will both repair the rift between the University and some of its African-American stakeholders, and also restore functionality and relevance to The Black House in recognition of the covenant the University entered into with Black students in May of 1968. We believe that there no better time than now – as we approach the 50th anniversary of that historic agreement – for the University to rededicate itself to making The Black House a cynosure of thought, culture and community engagement.