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Northwestern University Students Seek to Keep ‘Black House’ Black

Northwestern University Students Seek to Keep ‘Black House’ Black

The University of Missouri-Columbia’s Concerned Student 1950 campaign is bringing what many of us know all too well to light.

Racism is alive, well, and needs to be fought with great urgency.

As tensions appear to escalate at MU, Black post-secondary student populations in the country and their allies are taking steps to ensure that equality is accessible for all.

The latest to spark a call to action is Northwestern University (NU).

In 1968, the university’s Afro-American Student Union and For Members Only, along with a committee representing NU, signed a document known as “The 1968 Agreement.” According to a press release from the school’s Black Alumni Association obtained by EBONY, the Agreement acknowledged NU’s insensitivity to its Black community. The Agreement was meant to serve as a symbol of the university’s commitment to improve the Black student experience on campus.

According to NU’s website, in the “Facilities” section of the “Black Student Statement and Petition to Northwestern University Administrators,” students wrote: “We demand a Black Student Union, a place to be used for social and recreational activities….Black students have nothing at Northwestern to call our own. We need a place where we will feel free to come and to go as we please.”

As a result of the Agreement, the Black House was born.

Since the early 1970’s, the Black House has been a “home away from home” for thousands of African American students at Northwestern. It served as a safe space for many, during a time when Black acceptance came few and far in between.

But now, the legacy and purpose of the Black House is being threatened.

This summer, Northwestern University announced plans to integrate the Black House into the services provided by Multicultural Student Affairs in a reversal of these terms outlined in the Agreement:

Some cultural activities and many social activities on Campus are irrelevant for the Black students. The University realizes the special need for activity space for Black students. The space should provide for general lounge activities and also be usable for meeting space as well.

Specific consideration should be given to the following details:

1. An adequate library and artistic display space.

2. Flexibility of [the] house to meet the special social needs of Black students.

3. The provision of maximum privacy of the area.

4. Sufficient financial resources to carry on a reasonable program.

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Alan Cubbage, Vice President for University Relations at NU, said that no major changes are planned for the primary use of Black House, and that the university had considered moving some staff into the top floor of the house. Those plans are on hold pending recommendations from a Black House Review Committee that has been formed.

“Northwestern fully understands and recognizes the importance of Black House, both as a safe space for current students and a historic icon for alumni,” he said in a statement. “It will continue to be an honored place on the Northwestern campus, as it has been for nearly 50 years.”

Cubbage also said that Northwestern is currently conducting listening sessions regarding Black House and encourages students and alumni to participate. Two have already been held and two more are scheduled for Nov. 16 and Nov. 20.

Members of NU’s African American community have their own plans, however, and that is to make the Black House a Black cultural and resource center.

“We hereby reaffirm as in The Agreement that we cannot be complacent with the institutional arrangements that ignore the special needs of Black students and reject the contentions that these needs are no longer relevant or desired by students,” NU’s Black Alumni Association wrote. “We must address University authorities that fail to appreciate our nuance as a separate culture. In furtherance of this renewed commitment, this is intended to be a Call to Action for students, alumni and NU to indefinitely maintain the Black House as a facility dedicated to the activities of Black students and Black culture.”

The Alumni Association is specifically calling for the university to eliminate use of the Black House for programs and other activities not directly pertaining to the Black community.

Click here to view their petition. And if you are an affected alum, the group is asking for support.

EBONY will continue to keep an eye on cultural issues that Black students face in predominantly white institutions (PWIs).

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