Proposal for a UO black cultural center in limbo

University of Oregon administration is considering whether to open a black cultural center on campus, as plans to meet the Black Student Task Force’s demands continue to come to fruition.

When the BSTF sent the administration a list of demands to increase campus inclusion for black students, it called for a black cultural center, which would be used as a place to teach African-American history and for black organizations to meet.

UO President Michael Schill has since announced that the university is taking on six demands, and recommended to rename Dunn hall. The latter was approved by the Board of Trustees in September. However, the administration is still considering the remaining demands, leaving the proposal for a black cultural center uncertain. 

The BSTF wrote that it wants a center similar to Oregon State University’s Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center, which opened in April 2015. The BCC serves as the meeting space for the Black Student Association and African Student Association. It also gives groups a place to hold discussions on black history and current issues. Cultural events are also held – during Black History Month, the center hosted traditional Ghanaian dance and music events.

The concept of a black cultural center does have its critics: A Wall Street Journal column cited a 2004 study which concluded that “ethnic enclaves” would increase feelings of marginalization.

The study found that “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling of victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity.”

However, an analysis of 46 studies  published in the journal Child Development found that pride in one’s ethnicity increases happiness and academic success. UO psychology professor Gordon Hall believes that the SRCD studies support the need for a black cultural center on campus.

“Part of [the reason for a black cultural center] is to enhance [black students’] racial or ethnic identity,” Hall said. “Most of the students are not black. So there are not many opportunities for students to engage in activities that are going to promote their learning and health.”

The Many Nations Longhouse is the sole cultural center at UO. When senior Tracie Jackson first came to UO, it was hard to find a sense of home.

“I told someone that I was Native, and the person’s response to me was ‘You people still exist?’ ” Jackson said. “When I first walked in the longhouse and saw how beautiful it was, it made me proud to be Native American. Having that room where you can show your culture brings such an amazing feeling.”

Although the possibility of a UO black cultural center hasn’t been openly discussed by the administration, Black Student Union Co-Director Samantha Berguin hopes the demand will be met by its fall deadline.

“I want to be able to help the freshmen coming into the university and have that space for them,” Berguin said. “For them to be proud of their identity and don’t have to feel like they can’t just be themselves.”


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Andrew Field

Andrew Field

Former Japan Times intern. Daily Emerald reporter and FishDuck editor. Tokyo-Singapore-Houston-Eugene, but Oregonian forever. West Ham United and Portland Timbers fan.

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