Four years ago on a cool November day, a group of students called the Black Student Task Force marched across the University of Oregon campus to present President Michael Schill with a list of demands on how to make the university more inclusive and supportive of black students.
This fall, one of their biggest requests is coming to fruition and making history: the Black Cultural Center. The building will provide support for black students, giving them a space for academic advising, meeting and socializing.
“This is something that had been ongoing on campus for a number of years,” says Marcus Langford, associate dean of students.
The 3,200 square foot one-story building, which sits near the corner of Villard and 15th, has gray siding and large windows. The entry way is an open space in the center of the building. To the right of the entrance is a lounge area, stocked with books and magazines. To the left of the entrance is a hallway featuring a gallery of rotating artwork that represents and celebrates blackness.
The BCC also has a small conference room and a multi-purpose room. Both can be used for meetings, academic services and gatherings. Langford says The Black Student Union has already expressed interest in using the space for meetings.
The building is named for prominent Eugene-native Lyllye Reynolds-Parker.
Reynolds-Parker, 73, tells Eugene Weekly it wasn’t easy growing up black in Oregon, and the lack of diversity she encountered in school often felt isolating. When she attended the UO as a freshman in 1986, she says there was no support system in place for her.
But Reynolds-Parker developed a strong determination to make the education experience better for African Americans. When she graduated in 1991, she became an advisor to students for 17 years, retiring in 2012.
“I wanted there to be expectations that you are somebody and you can achieve whatever you want to achieve,” she says.
Now that the UO has the Black Cultural Center, Reynolds-Parker says she is ecstatic and that her feelings are hard to put into words.
“I am truly honored and humbled for it to be in my name,” Reynolds-Parker says.
When the Black Student Task Force originally came up with a list of 12 demands, the BCC was only one of them. The Task Force also demanded a scholarship initiative to support black students, demanded the university make the class Ethics 101 a graduation requirement and demanded that all Ku Klux Klan-related buildings be renamed — starting with Deady Hall. The UO chose not to rename that building.
In April 2017, Schill announced which diversity initiatives the university would take on to support the Black Student Task Force, and one of the biggest changes was to create the BCC. Private donors funded the $3 million building and the groundbreaking took place in October 2018.
“I would say that the history of the Black Cultural Center really does come out of and is rooted in student voice and student activism,” Langford says.
Now that the center is ready for student use, the university hired Aris Hall as the coordinator for the BCC. Hall has worked in administration and student services at historically black colleges as well as predominantly white colleges, she says. As the coordinator, Hall will work with students and staff to create social and academic opportunities for students.
“What I am looking forward to is seeing how it develops over time as not just for black students, but a place where they learn and grow past being a student and how they give back,” she says. ν
The Black Cultural Center will have a grand opening ceremony 11:30 am Saturday, Oct. 12 and will feature speakers and tours of the building.