Written by Serie McDougal
One of the unsung solutions in Black higher education is the role that Black Culture Centers (BCC) play in the college experiences of Black students. This is especially true for Black students on campuses, where they are underrepresented and/or in the numerical minority. On these campuses Black students face marginalization, social, isolation, underrepresentation in curriculum, and lack of cultural understanding. This can result in diminished sense of school-pride and spirit, and sense of belongingness. According to Patton (2006) Black students explain that they are sometimes stereotyped and treated in one of four ways: “as the spokesperson for all black people; as the academically underprepared beneficiary of affirmative action; as the angry, defensive minority; or as the invisible student” (p.2). In one of the few studies on the impact of Black Culture Centers, Patton (2006) interviewed students who participated in BCCs. She explains how BCCs benefit students in many ways, including increased opportunities for involvement and preparation for student leadership, a richer understanding of their community, enhanced development of their black identity, increased pride in their shared history, and an enrichment of strategies for thriving in college.
Students reported that the Black culture center’s activities and workshops taught them leadership and organization skills. They also provided them opportunities for leadership, and served as a pathway to membership in campus wide organizations.
Students reported that the Black culture center provided them with culture specific services that were geared toward their needs and interests and styles. The center provided them with an opportunity to form social relationships with other students and faculty and staff. They felt that faculty and staff at the centers were like mother and father figures and their peers, like family members.
HISTORICAL PRIDE AND IDENTITY
Students reported that the Black culture center provided them a place to learn about their culture and identity. They believed that the BCC was a place they could learn about and discuss Black issues and current ideas.
SELF-PRESERVATION AND MATTERING
Students felt that the BCC was a place they could go and feel a sense of comfort and relief. For them, they could speak freely and not feel treated as strange at the Black culture center compared to the larger campus.
Black Culture Centers are able to accomplish these outcomes through a range of services, including:
Pre College Programs
OPPOSITION AND MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT BCCs
Many BCCs face misconceptions. The more prominent of them are that they foster separatism, are only for Black students, and that they are only social (Patton, 2006). However, these misconceptions are based on a lack of understanding of BCCs. BCCs allow students to engage their institutions in ways that they are comfortable with, without having to check their cultures at the door. BCCs are for all students on campus who are interested in learning about Black cultures and themselves in relation to Black cultures. Lastly, as illustrated above BCCs offer a great deal of services beyond social ones, including skill building, academic services, and career/graduate school preparation. BCCs also face funding cuts and attempts to convert into multicultural centers. These options are based on under-valuing the role that ethnic specific centers play and lack of investment in what it takes to achieve educational equity.
THE FUTURE OF BCCs
According to Cooper (2014) BCCs are intent on becoming more academic in focus (2014), engaging in academic services, relationships with academic programs, housing libraries, and computer labs. The National Association for Black Culture Centers is also implementing an accreditation process for effectiveness in Black Culture Centers (see Appendix A) to aid in the process. According to Cooper (2014) “Yale's center is working with the archivist of the campus library to preserve artifacts, pictures and memorabilia, and provide electronic access to those materials” (p.7). Some BCCs are becoming involved in tracking and monitoring recruitment and retention rates and experiences at their institutions (Walker, 2007). There is also a recent push to collect hard data on the impact of their centers on students, given the general lack of data.
Cooper, K. J. (2014). Black culture centers are embracing multiculturalism and intellectual conversation. Diverse: Issues In Higher Education, 31(15), 6-9.
Patton, L. D. (2006). Black culture centers: Still central to student learning. About Campus, 11(2), 2-8.
Walker, M. A. (2007). The evolution of Black culture centers. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, 23(24), 16-17.
APPENDIX A: Criteria for Center Accreditation
I. Institutional Commitment and Responsibilities
A. There should be a direct reporting connection of Center to chief academic or student activities administrator.
B. Center should be integral part of institution’s educational and environmental culture.
A. Center must be institutional member of ABCC.
B. Center must successfully complete Preliminary Information Form, self-study and peer review processes.
Completion of Preliminary Information form and acceptance by the Council.
Completion of self-study process and acceptance by the Council.
Successful peer-review process of the Council’s visiting team.
C. Center must meet minimal standards outlined in the ABCC handbook, including III and IV of this Accreditation Outline.
III. Initial Membership
A. Center must be institutional member of ABCC.
B. Center must successfully complete the ABCC accreditation process.
C. Center has probationary membership of one year.
D. Center’s institution must demonstrate ability to meet guidelines of institutional commitment and responsibilities.
E. Center must demonstrate evidence of meeting conditions of eligibility.
IV. Center’s Missions and Purpose
A. Center should demonstrate clear evidence of meeting the following related missions identified in the ABCC Constitution:
A. Center must demonstrate effectiveness in the following areas:
A. Qualifications of Director(s) and other professional staff, must be met.