April 26, 2001

Rally Held to Renovate, Endow Africana Center

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Marching from the Arts Quad, hundreds of Cornellians rallied for several hours in front of Day Hall yesterday demanding the expansion and endowment of the Africana Studies and Research Center. The rally, organized by Black People Who Care and the Africana Resolutionary Movement, finished soon after the students advanced to Ho Plaza.

A demand submitted to the University administration called for funding to renovate the center and to expand the instructional, research and scholarship, and fellowship programs.

It states, “Over the past 30 years the University has treated the center with neglect failing to even once renovate the center.”

The demands include the “[creation] of endowed chairs and expanded faculty lines” and the “[endowment] of the library” at the research center.

“The issues the students are highlighting right now [with the rally] are part of a process that was already well underway long before today,” President Hunter R. Rawlings III noted.

Giving the center an endowment would be a “big step, something that would take a lot of discussion,” Rawlings said.

Several people involved with the Africana Center feel that past discussions involving the administration could have been more productive.

“We have raised the issue about the need to be placed on the list of priorities [of development projects] for several years, beginning with the previous administration,” said Professor James Turner, director of the Africana Center.

“This has extended over the past 10 years, and each time we’ve been told [by the administration] ‘we’re interested, that’s fine,'” and have never obtained a University endowment, Turner said.

One purpose of the rally was to “make [the condition of the Africana Center] a public issue so that there is accountability,” said Marc Rivera ’02, one of the organizers of the rally. He added that much of the administration’s discussions about the center have been behind closed doors.

The 30-year old Africana Center, located on Triphammer Rd. on North Campus, studies the history, culture, intellectual development and social organization of black people and cultures in the Americas, Africa and the Caribbean, according to its website.

Its program of study can lead to an undergraduate degree in the College of Arts and Sciences or to a graduate degree.

“The Africana Studies and Research Center is a vital part of Cornell’s history and its educational mission,” said Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin in a statement released yesterday. “It is a central point of coordination for multiple student and community organizations.”

The president of Black Students United, Rivera noted, “It’s good that [Provost Martin] comes out and takes an active interest, but what we want are specifics, and most importantly, we want a dialogue [with the administration].”

He said that “the statement is problematic because it puts a false picture on the way the University has addressed issues pertaining to Africana.”

Several speakers at the rally also suggested that the center has been overlooked by the University. They proclaimed that “the institution [Africana Center] is underdeveloped and neglected” and “we will not stop fighting until Africana is glorified here as it is across the nation and across the world.”

Nevertheless, the University and the Africana Center have taken initial steps to improve their building.

“I toured the facility earlier this semester … [and] there is no question that the facility serving this center … is seriously in need of repair and renovation,” Martin said. After the tour, Martin assigned University staff to immediately begin work on the “Feasibility Study,” she said.

The study, which is the first step in any facility renovation, will examine the needs and academic goals of the center, and is expected to be completed this summer. The next step will be to determine the expenses for the renovations in order to determine the best way to fund the improvements, Martin said.

The second step is more crucial than the first, according to Turner, because that is where “we get a definitive commitment [from the University] to put the necessary support behind changes to the Africana Center.”

“The University is certainly willing to use some of its own resources [to improve the center],” Martin said.

Other efforts aimed to raise money for the center included student-initiated phone-a-thons earlier this year that initially met resistance from the University, according to Turner.

The students’ efforts raised $10,000 from Cornell alumni, Rivera said.

Not all students watching the rally felt the Africana Center deserves additional funding.

“I think the money should go to the physical sciences and engineering, because the research at Africana is not useful,” said Scott Bergeron ’02, who attended the rally in opposition to the cause.

Rivera noted that the rally is just a beginning.

“I think the rally was a large success because the community was able to come out and let their voices be heard, but it would be foolish to assume that one rally, one conference or one political action can accomplish our goal,” Rivera said.

Some requests, such as those for additional faculty support, will have to compete for funding just like every other academic unit does, Martin said.

However, “we will make renovations,” she said.

Archived article by Peter Lin