WARREN – Walking around Kent State University in Trumbull, freshman psychology major Rayona Goodrich said she sometimes felt like she didn’t belong because she was a black woman attending a predominantly white institution.
“It makes me feel out of place and like I’m alone here.” said Goodrich of Warren.
Building Black Leaders program coordinator Tiffany Tyree said hearing these accounts of black student experiences on campus prompted her to set up the Cultural Clubhouse in the Student Services department for black students to meet people of similar backgrounds and to meet similar cultural experiences. The student service is located in the staff development and further education building on campus.
The clubhouse was funded by a $25,000 grant from the David Tod Arrel Trust, a private foundation managed by PNC Charitable Trusts. The grant was awarded as part of its mission to support diversity, equity and inclusion.
A portion of the grant went to fund the clubhouse and another portion to a grant for students who are part of the Building Black Leaders program.
It also enabled the BBL program to create two student employment opportunities for a “Student Mentoring Program Assistant” who help organize cultural events and oversee the operation of the clubhouse.
Tyree said integration into a college campus is critical to a student’s success, which she says is also true when black students are trying to adjust to a majority-white campus because they’re not building those shared cultural experiences.
“Some of the feedback from black students indicated that they felt disconnected or that they are usually either the only black students in a class or there are one or two others.” said Tyree.
Multicultural or black cultural centers have existed on college campuses for decades, designed to provide minority students with opportunities to explore political and civil rights issues and empower those students by sharing cultural information and creating events that cater to specific demographics are to unite.
At KSU at Trumbull, Dean Bill Ayers sees the university slogan “you belong here” While driving on the freeway, he said he believed those were just words if not followed by action.
“Higher education has long been a largely white, predominantly male and largely affluent space. American universities, with a few notable and notable exceptions, were built largely to serve people who look like me. Words alone won’t change that – it takes action.” said Ayers.
The racial makeup of KSU at Trumbull is approximately 170 Black students compared to the 1,800 White students on campus.
Ayers said the BBL program and clubhouse are early steps toward other actions the university plans to make the campus more inclusive.
The room won’t be all black, Ayers clarified. He said the clubhouse will create an opportunity for students of other races to use the space to learn a perspective other than their own, either through conversation or by selecting the literature by black authors available there.
For students arguing about whether the place is fair, Tyree asks them to put themselves in the shoes of a minority on campus.
“I would ask them to think about if they were a person of color going to a school that was predominantly white and had to adapt to a way of learning that wasn’t related to who you are within your are racial identity. This is an opportunity to clarify those challenges and difficulties. I tell students that you can be allies and do cultural programs together. We can include you in discussions and programs.” said Tyree.