Black House future discussed at final listening session

Mariana Alfaro, Development and Recruitment Editor

Days after the University promised not to move administrative offices into the Black House, community members convened Friday evening to discuss the building’s future during the final Black House listening session.

Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, told The Daily after the session that no administrative offices will be moved into the Multicultural Center, either. The news marks the cancellation of the University’s controversial plan announced in August to move some Campus Inclusion and Community offices from Scott Hall into the Black House and the MCC. The announcement sparked backlash from some students, alumni and community members, which prompted the University to launch the listening sessions and establish the Black House Facility Review Committee.

Around 50 students, alumni, faculty and community members attended the fourth listening session, where many spoke in favor of updating Black House spaces to better address the needs of black students as well as creating a historical and cultural archive that exposes students to the importance of the Black House.

“One of the greatest recommendations that we can offer is really to ensure that we show the value that’s in the Black House, and I think that’s through ensuring that we archive our history,” Kyra Woods (McCormick ‘13) said. “That would give that particular place, that particular plot of land … value that the institution overall cannot overlook.”

Woods, among other participants, said creating a strong dialogue on campus to make sure the Black House is not threatened again is important.

Students and alumni emphasized the importance of updating computers in the Black House’s computer lab, saying students in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science aren’t able to spend much time there because the computers don’t have the applications they need.

Kayla Griffith, a Communication junior, emphasized the need to create a space for theater and music students to practice in the Black House.

“There’s a lot of black performance groups on this campus that need the room to rehearse, and if we have the room to rehearse I think it would be incredibly beneficial,” she said.

Qunsia Daniel, a SESP senior, spoke about the importance of the Black House as a safe space on campus for black students, saying if Northwestern wants to become a safe space for black students and other students of color on campus, it needs to change its culture.

“The only reason why we need that safe space is because we don’t feel safe on this campus,” she said. “Its because we don’t feel heard in our classes, it’s because we don’t feel respected by our peers, it’s because we don’t feel heard by our faculty.”

Daniel said the NU community should be aware that the issues students at universities like the University of Missouri and Yale University are protesting right now also happen here. If the University plans to enhance the black student experience, she said, it should start in the classroom by changing minds and perspectives.

She referenced the comments former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made during his visit to campus this week, when he said students protesting institutional racism around the nation are “wasting their time,” and how students in the audience gave him a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

“That is so harmful in ways that I feel we shouldn’t even have to articulate and say ‘Hey, that hurts us,’” she said. “We should just know.”

First-year Kellogg graduate student Pleshette Strong (SESP ‘15), a member of the Black House Facility Review Committee, told the audience that though she understood why many were offended by the initial proposed changes to the Black House and the MCC, they shouldn’t be disrespectful toward administrators such as Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson, CIC’s executive director, and Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs.

“I feel like there was no critical thinking that went into the reaction, it was just reaction. And there’s a space for that,” she said. “But there’s also people on the other end of that. And there are also people receiving that hate and that feeling that people felt when these changes were announced, and that is not OK.”

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