Cultural Centers on Predominantly White Campuses: Campus, Cultural and Social Comfort Equals Retention

By Pittman, Edward | Black Issues in Higher Education, October 6, 1994 | Go to article overview

Cultural Centers on Predominantly White Campuses: Campus, Cultural and Social Comfort Equals Retention


Pittman, Edward, Black Issues in Higher Education


Cultural Centers on Predominantly White Campuses: Campus, Cultural and. Social Comfort Equals Retention

The development of cultural centers on predominantly white campuses is a growing phenomenon. Many students of color often can be heard saying, "We need a safe space, a refuge, a place where we can go and just be ourselves without feeling the pressures and constraints of an ever-present white world."

As the higher education community prepares for the year 2000 and beyond, many still question why many Black, Asian, Latino, and American Indian students challenge institutions to provide cultural centers on campus.

Throughout the college community, cultural-specific, multicultural or intercultural centers can be found on many campuses. In 1992 the higher education community was reminded of the demand for cultural centers when the media focused on the efforts of Black students at the University of North Carolina to obtain funding and an acceptable campus location for a free-standing Black cultural center. Affirmations of cultural identity and a vocal discontent with the dominant campus climate were echoed by many of the student leaders and their supporters. In essence, students were challenging the institution to commit resources to a spoken mission of diversity.

Cultural Mirrors Absent

Many of the diversity challenges being laid at the doors of college presidents and deans of student affairs are not new. The post-civil rights period of the late 1960s led many universities and colleges to recruit increasing numbers of Black and Latino students.

Along with the sudden increases in enrollments, however, students began to challenge prevailing institutional ethos rooted in a Eurocentric curriculum, irrelevant social activities, and a campus life that was often hostile to the presence of students of color. Such levels of discomfort coupled with an absence of cultural mirrors through which to see themselves, led many students to demand cultural space on campuses which neither validated their experience, nor their presence, within the institution.

Divisive Attacks

While it is true that many institutions are now committing resources toward cultural centers and other support services for students of color, angry and divisive attacks on the cultural center concept are too often offered up by many in academia. …

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