USG, diversity affairs proceed on ‘black house’

This article originally appeared in USC’s Daily Trojan on Nov. 6, 2014 

Undergraduate Student Government and Diversity Affairs are beginning to lay the logistical bricks to create a house that supports the interests and academics of black students at the university. The planning for the house, currently dubbed the “Black House,” will move forward since the USG Senate passed the resolution on Oct. 28. The student representatives who worked on the resolution project said they will begin meeting with administrators next week to further the discussion.

For many of the student representatives who worked on this resolution, the creation of the Black House will be the catalyst to a much-needed change on campus: more space for social programming centered on the African diaspora.

“We want something that our community could take ownership of,” said Program Board Executive Director Ama Amoafo-Yeboah, who helped draft the resolution. “We are supposed to represent Caribbean students, African students and those black students born in the U.S. Having that additional space to program off campus would provide space for everyone.”

A site has yet to be determined for the house, but planners hope it will be located north of the North University Campus, possibly near The Row.

“The hub of social interaction on this campus is The Row,” Diversity Affairs Co-Director Skylar Dunn said. “We always talk about the Trojan experience, but a lot of us as black students don’t feel like we have that same experience as [our] counterparts. We would like for the house to be in that general vicinity.”

The student representatives are now looking for funding for the project. They said they have plans to reach out to the Black Alumni Association, as well as other alumni associations, the administration and, possibly obtain funding from USG student programming fees.

Student interests were measured through an online survey. For the approximately 125 students who responded to the survey, 29 percent of black students ranked “sense of belonging” as the second-least satisfying component of the USC experience, according to the resolution.

Diversity Affairs Co-Director Levi Powell said the relatively low number of student respondents has not swayed the committee’s passion for continuing this process. He also noted that the black community at USC makes up 4 percent of the student body, contributing to the low number of respondents.

“Even if it were 5 percent or 2 percent of [black] students that didn’t feel a sense of belonging, that would be worth my while,” Powell said. “I solely believe in mentorship and guidance and having people feel like they belong. It’s very difficult to be here and thrive if you feel like you’re doing it by yourself.”

He also said they are making a stronger push to reach out to more people of all backgrounds, actively  building support and receiving feedback.

Last week, the resolution was delivered to administrators, including President C.L. Max Nikias, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Elizabeth Garrett and Vice Provost of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry.

Vice President Rini Sampath said having the support of administrators would “open so many doors for the comfort of students” and said they have already shown that they “understand the need for this space.”

Within the Diversity Affairs committee, the co-directors said they are putting together student task forces to finalize the plans. Though they will not be here when the house opens- — Yeboah and Powell are hopeful that the house will open in four to five years — the student representatives are optimistic for the long-term influence it will have on the student body.

“We want it to last 40, 50, 60 years down the line,” Powell said. “We’re not trying to replace any model already existing, but we’re just giving another option to explore black culture and the black student experience.”

Maddie Lees, a USG residential senator who also helped draft the resolution, said there is potential for a Black House to be the model for other minority groups seeking to create more spaces to celebrate their culture.

“It’s about adjusting this model to fit the needs of the communities,” Lees said. “Not every community needs the same thing. We won’t be copying and pasting this resolution for different groups on campus, but if we can get the conversation started about what different groups and people on campus need, then that’s absolutely a success.”

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