Since its founding 30 years ago, the Association for Black Culture Centers (ABCC) has grown from the 50 institutions represented at its inaugural conference at Knox College in 1989 and redefined its mission to include Latin(x), Asian American and Native American Culture Centers.
However, Dr. Fred Hord, ABCC’s founder and executive director, says that ABCC has had a large contingent of multiculture centers since its early days and “decided to build both on the increasing collaboration of these ethnic specific centers and the more than occasional identification of staff and students of being Black simultaneously with being Latino, Asian American or Native American.”
“Connecting these ethnic specific centers with Black Centers in this fashion would call clear historical attention to early African influences on and connections to other ethnic groups,” he adds.
Additionally, beginning last year and through 2021, a number of ABCC culture centers are celebrating milestone 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries.
Dr. Lori Patton Davis, chair of the Department of Educational Studies at The Ohio State University (OSU), praised ABCC for their recent efforts.
“I think ABCC’s willingness to think outside the box regarding identity centers is an excellent step in the right direction,” says Patton Davis, a professor in the higher education and student affairs program at OSU.
Though ABCC’s largest component is Black, Hord says “our 30 years of studying the crosscurrents of the four ethnic groups now at the head of the organization allows us to see clearly now that race, though terribly real in life consequences and a social construction, must be dislodged as a biological fact if we are to stand a chance of avoiding its death sting of more than a half millennium.”
Renee A. Thomas, director of Purdue University’s Black Culture Center (BCC), believes that these multicultural partnerships are pivotal in helping achieve the goal of building capacity.
“This effort will provide an opportunity to further develop our presence in various communities,” she says. “It is a natural progression of the organization. There are many historical and cultural connections among these communities.”
Patton Davis recognizes that some of the benefits of encompassing many of these identities within ABCC include establishing stronger networks for information sharing and increased solidarity.
However, she acknowledged that there could be potential problems with the multitude of identities housed under one “roof.”
“Some may not view this move as beneficial because issues related to race or issues specific to Black communities can possibly get lost in broader multicultural efforts and the ABCC was established to really center the experiences of Black people and the role of Black culture centers in higher education,” said Patton Davis.
In a 2006 article in About Campus titled “Black Culture Centers: Still Central to Student Learning,” Patton Davis addressed misconceptions about BCCs. One question posed by the article was whether Black cultural centers are only for Black students.
“Another perspective in opposition to BCCs is that they serve only the needs of black students,” she writes. “While the overall mission of BCCs tends to focus on recognition and celebration of black culture and providing support to black students, BCCs are also campus community facilities that welcome all people, whatever their background, who wish to learn about black culture and learn about themselves in relation to black people.”
For many students, culture centers provide support, leadership activities and promote belongingness, according to Patton Davis.
“Culture centers, though they don’t receive the credit, are critical to diversity and inclusion on campus,” she says. “In many ways, culture centers are one of the best kept secrets when it comes to diversity in higher education.”
Additionally, it is important to understand that Black students aren’t a monolithic group.
“They have different ethnic backgrounds, identities and experiences similar to Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American students,” says Patton Davis. “ABCC’s current direction allows space for professionals within culture centers to think more critically and creatively around student identity and the role of culture centers in facilitating positive and validating experiences.”
Patton Davis found that culture centers have helped with students’ experiences on their campuses.
“What I can say for certain is that students who are involved with their culture center have a much richer college experience because these centers are so committed to their students,” she says. “And these centers are able to do this work, despite receiving fewer resources.”
Additionally, they address equity gaps in student outcomes on campus.
“Transforming the university by centering the critical issues of power and privilege throughout the cultural and programmatic framework of the entire institution is one of the most important yet least recognized role of cultural centers,” says Thomas. “It is imperative that institutions prioritize [a] diversity and inclusion learning environment that is accessible, affordable and responsive to a variety of backgrounds from which our students come and the complex multicultural world where they will spend their careers.”
Schools like Purdue University are also establishing collaborative programs of their own on campus.
This month, Purdue’s BCC is presenting a panel discussion with the Asian American and Asian Resource and Cultural Center on the Model Minority Myth from the lens of Asian heritage. Additionally, in the spring of 2020, there will be a focus on the Afro Latin Diaspora.
Thomas described Purdue’s BCC as a “vibrant element of campus life” that “promotes cultural and academic excellence.”
Purdue’s BCC is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Purdue’s BCC also sponsors a Cultural Art Series of events which feature speakers, performers and alumni. The center also hosts six performing arts ensembles and features a special collections library and computer lab.
“We have ambitious goals that are bold, exciting and achievable,” says Thomas. “We look forward to taking on new challenges and delivering the highest quality. Once marginalized, the Purdue BCC is now established as a center of gravity.”
Besides opening cultural centers as a way for minority students to find comfort on college campuses, students need to feel validated by their institution, says Patton Davis.
“That means their experiences need to be reflected in the curriculum,” she adds. “It means that policies and processes are examined to ensure these students are [not] criminalized. It means that supporting these students requires a collective commitment across campus rather than relying solely on culture centers to do the work. It means asking these students what they need to be successful rather than assuming.”
Patton Davis acknowledges that more research needs to be conducted on this subject for institutions to fully understand what resources are needed on campus.
She found that “in many of the recent demand letters from students, they are asking for culture centers to be established or to extend the additional resources. Institutions will benefit from addressing these needs with more research-informed decisions to be proactive instead of reactive when such demands arise.”
In terms of ABCC’s plans for the future, Hord hopes to expand ABCC’s footprint internationally and is seeking a presence in West Africa and Jamaica.