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In 2006, Dr. Lori Patton Davis, then an assistant professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Iowa State University, explored the importance of black cultural centers (BCC) and why they mattered to African-American students in her published work, “Black Culture Centers: Still Central to Student Learning.”
To learn more, Davis conducted a qualitative study, featuring extensive research and interviews with more than 30 African-American students who accessed BCCs, including those at Wabash College and the University of Florida. Here’s what she discovered:
Students acclimate better to college life
Students involved with BCCs gained confidence and felt more inclined to participate in campus activities, including student government, homecoming and student ambassador groups, among other things.
In addition, first-year students who participated in BCC-sponsored programming gained new leadership skills, such as public speaking, event planning and promotion, and working collaboratively within a large team unit.
Students gain a community
Students noted that their BCC was the “most comfortable environment” on their campus and that it helped created a sense of community among their peers. In addition, BCC-sponsored orientation programming geared itself more directly toward the needs of African-American students, helping them establish friendships, share information about courses and instructors, and create an informal network of support.
Students develop greater cultural awareness
Students participating in the study said their BCC was the one place on campus where they could learn more about their culture and its history, allowing them to gain a greater sense of identity. Many students also viewed their BCC as a proud symbol of black history, both within their institution and beyond.
Students feel like they matter
According to Davis’ study, students said their BCC was the lone place on campus where they could feel comfortable and accepted because they were among peers who had similar experiences.
Beyond that, many said their BCC was the only place on campus where they could speak freely or vent about issues – and feel supported by those around them, including center staff. All of these factors, Davis noted, helped students feel validated and recognized and gave them the tools to navigate some of the challenges they might face.
Dr. Patton Davis now serves as a Professor of Urban Education at The Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) School of Education.
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