The University of Oregon (UO) recently announced plans to begin building a $2.2 million Black Cultural Center.

The 3,500-square foot facility’s construction is expected to begin this summer and completion is planned so that it will open for the 2019-2020 school year.

Members of the University of Oregon Black Student Task Force (pictured) were advocates of the planned Black Cultural Center. (Courtesy photo)

“I think that the tangibles will really bring it home,” Dr. R. Kevin Marbury, University of Oregon’s  Vice President of Student Life, told the AFRO. ”The first time that we’re able to produce a document with the elevation, what the thing could look like, it takes it away from being a concept to being reality. Putting shovels in the ground in the summer, I think that we have some things in play that will really push this thing forward.”

The university has raised $1.6 million at press time. 120 donors have made 144 donations, with the largest single donation coming from alumnus David Petrone.

The facility was conceptualized when it became a component of 13 demands made of the UO administration in 2015.

UO’s Black Student Task Force, comprised of elements from the Black Student Union, Black Law Student Association, Black Women of Achievement and Black Male Alliance, presented the demands in November 2015. Included in the demands, were the renaming of two halls; one honoring a Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan and a second honoring the first President of the Board of Regents that had at times advocated for Oregon’s admission into the Union as a slave state and other times for the forbiddance of all Blacks from entering Oregon’s borders.

Dunn Hall, named for the Klansman Frederic Dunn, was renamed Unthank Hall in Summer 2017. Deady Hall remains named for White supremacist Matthew Deady. Deady, a native of Easton, Maryland, was Oregon’s first federal judge and a framer of Oregon’s constitution before becoming President of the Board of Regents.

“The president empanelled a group of historians that went through the record and looked at his actions and took public comment and there were a lot of really thoughtful discussions around it,” Tobin Klinger, UO’s senior director of Public Affairs Communications, told the AFRO. “At the end of the day, he sat down and with the Black Student Task Force and said ‘look, I’ve looked at this, I understand why you’ve brought it to the forefront, but we don’t necessarily gain anything by simply taking that name off. And here’s some of the information that I’ve gathered.’”

The university had previously cited Deady’s strict constitutionalism, particularly his embrace of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments, as evidence of a possibly softening of his outlook towards Blacks.

Neither the university officials or student activists the AFRO spoke with considered each and every demand met. But the administration is embracing the opportunity for dialogue.

“We’re about half way, maybe a little bit more through those demands,” Marbury said. “Which is pretty impressive when you think some about the amount of time and about the things that we’ve been trying to accomplish. There’s an effort, a concerted effort, to move through making this place an inclusive and safe, and some place that people will feel good about being, and will feel good about coming in the future.”

But one unmet demand may the most critical in creating a lasting change.

“We need movement on the Black Studies Program,” the task force wrote in an email to the AFRO. “It needs to move forward, per our vision, as an independent program. While we are buoyed by the commitment of Dean Marcus and leadership of President Schill, we are disappointed in certain campus leadership/professors rancorous strategies to subvert our vision and hope for an independent Black Studies program. Black faculty have been hired as a part of the Black Studies cluster, with the assurance of developing and building an independent Black Studies Program. Though they are immensely qualified, these faculty lack firm support and are consequently walled off from leading the development/implementation efforts of an independent Black Studies Program, which is the chief duty of the job they were recruited and hired for.”

While the administration frames the current argument as stemming from University of Missouri protests in 2015, the task force sees unmet commitments from a confrontation in 1968.

The Demands of 1968 called for the creation of a Black Studies program 50 years ago and secured a $3 million endowment at that time.

“Nevertheless, due to UO’s palpable anti-Black and unwelcoming racial campus atmosphere, Black professors were tactically dissuaded from teach/leading and participation in the program,” the task force also wrote. “Subsequently, due to this unwelcoming climate, this demand, and Black students vision/hard work, changed (without consent) to what is now known at the UO as Ethnic Studies”

Diversity is in the best interest of the UO,” the task force said. “In order for the university to be diverse and excellent for everyone, it needs more Black faculty and students. Moreover, it needs to value the research and leadership ability of the Black Studies Cluster hire Faculty, by following through on their hiring pledge and allowing them to build and implement a Black Studies program.”