UW-Madison will open a center for black students as the spring semester winds down Wednesday, in what one researcher called a positive step toward the university better supporting African-Americans on campus.
A day of discussions and performances will mark the official opening of the Black Cultural Center inside UW’s Red Gym, which is already the home of other multicultural student organizations.
The center will be open to all students.
UW-Madison officials have said building the center — in a first-floor space that was to house a package pickup location for the online retailer Amazon — shows they are committed to improving the experiences of black students after a raft of protests and racist incidents last year.
Creating a dedicated space on campus for black students had been among the goals of student activists in those protests.
Doctoral student Harvey Long, who helped plan the new center and studies the history of black students at UW-Madison dating back to the 1870s, said African-Americans at the predominantly white university have long gathered in informal places to “rejuvenate and recharge.”
The new center, Long said, makes those spaces officially a part of UW-Madison.
“It matters a lot for students — but specifically black students in spaces where we haven’t always been welcome — to have a community and a space where you can be yourself,” Long said. “I think it’s vital.”
Long, who will give a presentation on his research as part of Wednesday’s events, noted UW-Madison opened a similar center for black students in 1968 but closed it five years later when officials consolidated spaces for minority students.
He said it will be important for UW-Madison’s administrators to maintain their support for the center and the students it serves.
“The institution must continue to be aware of and fight for students of color,” Long said. “It’s a step in the right direction (and) it’s a concrete example of what happens when students are engaged in activism.”