by John D. Hubbard
Born of upheaval and no stranger to controversy, the Cultural Center seems poised to assume an ever-more influential role on campus. "At first the ALANA Cultural Center was a place where I worked," says sophomore Heather Heydt, who organized and hosted an open house last semester centered around issues of poverty and health. "Now it is the place where I live. Not only do I spend a lot of time there but I spend my most valuable moments and create my fondest memories of this campus and its people within the glass walls of that building."
The foundation for those walls was laid by the demands for an "Afro-American Cultural Living Center" by the Association of Black Collegians. When talks between the organization and administrators bogged down during the spring of 1969, ABC began a 70-hour occupation of Merrill House and the Faculty Club located there. "We want a place where we can retire from the white community," ABC chairman Naceo Giles '70 told the Maroon.
The Merrill House takeover led directly to the transformation of a maintenance building into a center, but by then its purpose had broadened "to develop educational programs and resources which demonstrate the contribution of ethnic groups for the benefit of Colgate students, faculty, staff, residents of Hamilton and other educational and urban institutions." By 1980, the center was refurbished and Mae Henderson was named director, the first in ten years. According to a statement published then, the primary goal was "to make the center more integral to the structure of the university and also complement the classroom." Henderson felt the center could "function as an educational and intellectual resource for minority students but also for the Colgate community at large."
In the fall of 1986 Verna Cole, who had become the Cultural Center's director, helped organized a reunion for alumni of color in New York City with Frank Morris '61 and LeRoy Potts '85. That event led to the creation of a formal alumni association and a year later Dean of the College William Moynihan was talking about the construction of a new cultural center to "promote cross-cultural understanding."
Eleni Tedla, named director in the winter of 1987, felt the center had "great potential to be turned into a learning center for various cultures" while "meeting the needs of students of color. You can't empathize with people of color if you don't know their situation."
After three years of planning and development, a new cultural center building was dedicated in April 1989. Then-President George Langdon called it "a commitment to diversity." A plaque dated 4/22/89 reads, "Dedicated to those brothers whose vision, determination and sacrifice to the ideals of cultural and ethnic diversity provided the foundation for the Cultural Center's reality." Another plaque quotes from Adam Clayton Powell's "One Day" speech: "One day the United States of America, with its bleeding wounds of race hatred, will be cleansed by the glorious healing power of God's love."
Today, the ALANA Cultural Center occupies its own building, a sweeping edifice that is home to 12 student organizations and includes a kitchen, music room, seminar room, library and multipurpose room."I want the center to be a place where everyone gets an opportunity to grow," says Dolores Walters, who became director last semester.
According to the 1997-98 university catalogue, "the ALANA Cultural Center serves as a learning center and focal point where Colgate students, faculty and staff gather to understand the Africana, Latin American, Asian American and Native American cultures, struggles and accomplishments."
The Cultural Center, says Kianna Cole '99, "is the best-kept secret on campus. A member of the Coalition for a Better World, an outreach program for the center, Kianna is one of a dozen students who help to plan events and programs to promote diversity and engage the campus community.
Each month the coalition holds an open house planned around a theme,
including recent topics such as poverty and health, ALANA awareness and
the environment. "We are a group that helps to educate the campus about
cultural issues," says Cole. "We want people, and more varied people, to
come to the center."
For Samantha Hoh '00, also a coalition program advisor, the center provides "a learning experience outside the classroom. It is a place to meet others we might not meet elsewhere on campus. It's a chance to widen my horizons."
Widening the horizons of the center itself is on the mind of new director Walters. A nurse, Ph.D. in anthropology, teacher and community outreach worker, the director brings a broad background to the job. "The position of director involves a lot of my past work with people different backgrounds," says Walters. An Air Force tour in Japan, years of pediatric service, research in North Yemen with outcast groups, teaching stints in the midwest, California and Colgate and reclamation of Syracuse neighborhoods make up a vivid resume and inform Walters' work at the center.
"Colgate students from a class I taught on women in the Middle East went to Syracuse, where they interacted with community residents. It was a good time and they made connections between analytical discussions and a community involved in a self-help effort."
Walters plans to continue to bring students into the diverse surrounding communities ("I'm interested in issues faced by people in poor rural areas") and then back up the experiential learning through programming that leads to a dialogue. "I have the opportunity to work with people of different backgrounds in a way to create programs to educate people about diversity, and actually ask students how they would like to proceed."
The idea of education outside the traditional classroom intrigues Walters, who assesses what has worked in the past and then tries to implement those successes in broader ways.
Weaving the experiential component with analytical issues of diversity becomes the essence of the approach. Direct involvement "encourages students to use their imaginations in understanding cultural backgrounds. We have a chance to highlight what Colgate students have been doing on their own Ñ they go into the neighborhoods of Syracuse and work with kids in the Oneida Nation after school already. I envision programs that will develop into a dialogue as well as community service."
Associate dean of the college and director of campus life Lisa Linquest sees the Cultural Center playing numerous roles, including providing "a home away from home for ALANA students where they can feel comfortable and know the university is dedicated to their issues."
The dean also sees the center pulling together the learning that happens outside the classroom. "The center also has a role to play in exposing all students to ALANA cultures and challenging white students to think about diversity issues."
When Heather Heydt stood before a standing-room-only crowd at last semester's open house she felt she "mattered." She realized, too, "that people do listen and that change can happen."
Allowing people to matter, listening and changing is at the very heart
of the ALANA Cultural Center.
ALANA Organizations Officers
African American Student Alliance
Uchechi Obichere, Co-President
Asia Interest House
Hui Cheng, RA
Asian Awareness Coalition
Jeremy Kitchen, Director
Caribbean Student Association
Natacha Francois, Prime Minister
Colgate International Club
Shiyana Valentine, President
Harlem Renaissance Center
Celia Wilkins, RA
Jeremy Kitchen, Co-Director
Korean Student Association
James Lee, President
La Casa Pan-Latina Americana
Amanda Ruggiera, RA
Latin American Dancers
Latin American Student Organization
Rose Mary Cortes, President
Muslim Student Association
Native American Student Confederacy
Sojourners Gospel Choir
Natacha Francois, Administrative Director
South Asian Continental Club
Preeti Parasharami, Co-Chair