This story is written by a guest author. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent an official stance of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion or the University of Utah.
Over decades of growth and change, the University of Utah (U of U) community of students, graduates, faculty, and staff have been joined together through the shared dream of reaching new heights. On Feb. 26, 2019, the University of Utah will host an open house for its inaugural Black Cultural Center. Student activism is central to this initiative, which strives to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and dynamic community in the 21st century.
Seeing a Black Cultural Center at the University of Utah has been my dream since Sophomore year; it’s the same dream that has been held by so many before me.
Alexis Baker, former president for the Black Student Union (BSU)
Baker explains, “As a co-founder of the Black Cultural Center, and a graduating senior of the University of Utah, I can say that student activism is not only voicing concerns to the administration but also learning how to be in coalition with others to make sure said concerns and solutions can effect change.” Baker and her coalition of peers and mentors collectively wrote a 41-page proposal with accompanying a three-year operational budget projection.
“I have seen the institution make changes to ensure that Black students, faculty, and staff are no longer on the margins,” said Barbara Kufiadan, Black Cultural Center co-founder and former vice president of the Black Student Union. “The Black Cultural Center is extremely important to me not only because it provides an affinity space for students, faculty, and staff, but also because it serves as an example of what student advocacy can lead to.”
The history of higher education has taught us that student activism across the nation has been integral to shaping institutional change.
Portia Saulabiu, Black Cultural Center co-founder and Center for Ethnic Studies Affairs (CESA) retention coordinator/advisor
Students have always been at the center of transforming higher education; making it more inclusive with every graduating class. In the recent history of the University of Utah, unfortunately, there have been one too many incidents rooted in racism, bigotry, or hate. Saulabiu explains, “Since Fall 2017, the campus has seen several acts of anti-Blackness. Those incidents galvanized the leaders of the Black Student Union (BSU) to engage in respectful dialogue across campus, advocating on behalf of Black students, staff, and faculty. As the retention coordinator/advisor in CESA, I felt it was my obligation to support our students in their activism for the Black Cultural Center. I echoed this need to the leadership of the Black Faculty & Staff Association (BFSA), and together we stood in support of our Black Students.”
Saulabiu’s use of her roles in CESA and the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) inspired co-founders, Vivian D’Andrade and Romeo Jackson, to leverage their roles as co-chairs of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) to help build a better future at the University of Utah. Jackson, BCC co-founder and U of U class of 2018, reflects, “Black women’s leadership and activism made the Black Cultural Center possible. I viewed us graduate students as amplifiers of undergraduate students voicing their needs and desires. Our role was also to support them as they navigated the institution; that meant keeping their voices at the center of our minds and hearts at all times.” Student activism is heart-work, and the Black Cultural Center was a labor of love. Moreover, the Black Cultural Center is a retention strategy that will promote a sense of belonging for Black students, faculty, staff, and all University of Utah community members committed to reaching new heights.
In recognition of the co-founders of the Black Cultural
Alexis Baker, former President, Black Student Union (BSU)
Barbara Kufiadan, former Vice President, Black Student Union (BSU)
Portia Saulabiu, CESA Retention Coordinator, Advisor
Romeo Jackson, former Co-Chair, Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA)
Vivian D’Andrade, former Co-Chair, Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA)
Special thanks to the supporters of the Black Cultural Center:
Ruth Watkins, President, University of Utah
Dan Reed, Senior Vice President, Academic Affairs
Paula Smith, Interim Associate Vice President, Office of Equity & Diversity
Kathryn Stockton, Associate Vice President, Office of Equity & Diversity
Nicole R. Robinson, former Associate Vice President, Office of Equity & Diversity
Tawanda Owens, Executive Director, Diverse Student Advocacy
Dr. Laurence Parker, Associate Dean, Honors College
Dr. William Smith, Department Chair, Education, Culture, & Society
Elliot Sykes, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Ethnic Studies/ former President, BGSA
If you missed the open house, here are some photos of this historic event!