The University of Oregon will seek public comment on the Black Cultural Center in the coming weeks at a public forum as they prepare to break ground on the center in the fall.
While the official date of the public forum has not been announced, Vice President of Student Life Kevin Marbury said to expect it in about two weeks.
The approximately 3,200 square feet building is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019. It will be on East 15th near Villard Street.
The project is in response to the November 2015 demands the Black Student Task Force sent to UO’s administration. Marbury applauded the pace of the project as a sign of the university’s commitment to making sure all students have a space they feel like they belong in.
“We’re talking about providing another opportunity for our students to have something that makes them feel connected to the institution, that sense of belonging, that place where they can go and recharge but also a place of learning and growth,” Marbury said.
He said he thinks it’s important that any freshmen involved in issuing the demands get to see something they asked for come to fruition before they graduate.
Marbury said that although the name of the center might make it seem like only black students can use it, that’s not true.
“I really think it’s going to be an opportunity for people to explore and learn and grow,” Marbury said. “Primarily black students have said they need some additional space to do some of the things that will help them be successful. It’s an important commitment by the institution to say, ‘we hear you and we believe in that as well’.”
Marbury noted the precedence for these kinds of spaces around campus, like the Women’s Center or the Many Nations Longhouse, as being open to anyone, despite sounding like it only serves certain groups.
”It is a place that I can, as a black person, go to share and learn the same way I can go to the Longhouse or any other building on this campus,” said Marbury. I don’t think it’s a place of segregation, I think it’s an opportunity for there to be a kind of central location where things can happen. It’s not the only place they can happen, but certainly, it’s a place to start. It’s a place that, wherever you are in your journey, there’s a place you can go and connect.”
While the building is slated to primarily feature meeting spaces for a variety of uses, including studying, student planning groups, academic support and possibly small classes, Marbury said another mission is to include art and cultural pieces from both the university and across the state.
“We’re trying to make the space as flexible as possible so that it is of the most value to both the users and the UO community,” said Marbury.
With a price tag of about $2.2 million, about $1.7 million of the funding has come from donations alone. Some of the donations include about $1 million from alumnus Dave Petrone and his wife Nancy, along with resources allocated from UO President Michael Schill’s Presidential Fund for Excellence created from a $50 million anonymous gift in October of 2017.
Drawing on his own experience living in a Black Cultural Center when he was in college at Earlham College in Indiana, Marbury said they are pulling inspiration from examples at other colleges, including Oregon State University, to help inform the best ways the center can serve the community.
One thing that Marbury said sets UO’s Black Cultural Center apart from that of some other institutions’ is that it’s being built from the ground up as opposed to putting the center somewhere that wasn’t built specifically for it.
“You’re not just building a building, you’re actually building something that generations are going to get a chance to use and it is going to be significant, I think, to the university, that they made the commitment to do this,” said Marbury. “It speaks to everyone a feeling of being welcome, a sense of belonging. I’m honored that I get a chance to be a part of this.”