After over a year of advocating for a student center dedicated to African-American students, DePaul’s Black Student Union’s (BSU) work has paid off.
In January 2016, BSU met with Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, CM, DePaul’s president, to discuss race on campus. Through this conversation they requested the creation of a center dedicated to serving African-American students on campus.
On May 11, Holtschneider and Gene Zdziarski, Vice President of Student Affairs, announced BSU’s request has come to fruition and DePaul will move forward with plans to build the center.
BSU president Mario Morrow says their efforts to establish the center were increased after last year’s Milo Yiannopoulos event.
“After Milo, we had recaps and meetings and thought how we could improve student life on campus, which pushed us to want this even more,” he said.
In the aftermath of the Yiannopoulos event, BSU worked to make DePaul’s black students feel comfortable but struggled with the resources available to them at the time. “It was hard for our (black students) to find resources on campus to talk with and help them deal with the situation, so we opened BSU’s office up to be a safe space, but could only fit so many people,” Morrow said
The new center will bring necessary resources needed to benefit black students. The center will have a full-time staff, consisting of graduate and undergraduate student workers to facilitate a safe space for students. The center will be a place to learn, but will also provide a place where black students can feel safe and comfortable.
Morrow believes this will help not only the black student body, but the university as a whole.
“Only one demographic is failing in retention rate, graduation rates and grades,” Morrow said. But with this center we could offer resources that will allow us to help those students, which will then benefit DePaul.”
According to a 2015 report published by DePaul’s Institutional Research & Marketing Analytics, first year African-American students had the lowest retention rate among all demographics. The African-American student retention rate averaged 75 percent. However, when broken down into race and gender, African-American females had the second lowest retention rate at 77 percent, followed by African-American males at 73 percent.
Based on a November 2016 university study, African-American students also have the lowest graduation rate at DePaul, who have a four-year graduation rate of 47 percent, and a six-year graduation rate of 59 percent.
“Culture centers such as the one requested by the BSU provide an opportunity for students to find respite among others who share a common culture and provide programming that serves them and the larger university community,” Lynn Safranek, Assistant Vice President of Strategic Communications at DePaul said.
DePaul stated in an email to students that in order to accomplish the establishment of the centers, “we must repurpose existing space and reorganize current efforts to support our diverse students.”
Much has yet to be determined before the opening of the center. Morrow says BSU will continue to communicate and work with the university’s administration. “It’s a waiting game, there is a lot to be discussed,” he said. The university hopes to have the center open as soon as possible, and is looking at different spaces within the Lincoln Park campus, although the exact location has yet to be determined.
The decision to move forward on the plans comes after months of research of how the center would impact the university. DePaul said it evaluated the outcome of centers built at different universities and saw the benefit it had for their student bodies.
Similar centers have been built in other colleges such as University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Purdue University. UIC’s African-American Cultural Center states their mission is to create a space that is open to educating, studying, reflection and relaxation. Purdue University has a Black Culture Center as a department within the Division of Diversity and Inclusion. It is designed to be a place on campus where people can come and learn about African-American culture and art, while being a safe space. These universities have reported a positive outcome after the introduction of the centers.
In an effort to move forward with the DePaul’s Action Plan on Race and Speech, the university also stated their intention to create similar spaces for the Latinx and LGBTQ students. The university wants students to have a clear point of contact so undocumented students can turn to it when in need of assistance since they have such limited resources on campus. Although no request has been made by the Asian student population, the university says it will do research into seeing if a similar center for the Asian student body would be viable.
Holtschneider believes these centers will help enhance the care the university provides to the black, Latinx and LGBTQ communities.