Campus News

Campus leaders dedicate Black Cultural Center at conclusion of Black History Month

UW-Madison’s Black Student Union President Marquise Mays and Program Development and Assessment Specialist in the Division of Student Life Hazel Symonette spread tobacco around the new Black Cultural Center space during a dedication and libation ceremony.

Image By: Catherine Goslin

Nearly two years after students demanded greater diversity and inclusion at UW-Madison, the Black Cultural Center was dedicated to “voices from the future," and to "our ancestors whose shoulders we stand on," as Hazel Symonette said, in a ceremony Tuesday.

The event was a dedication and libation ceremony for the center, which is located on the first floor of the Red Gym. The BCC will serve black students by facilitating opportunities for academic and social support, co-curricular programming and as a community building. It will acknowledge specific realities of black students at UW-Madison, according to their mission statement.

Symonette, the founder and director of the Student Success Institute and program development and assessment specialist in the Division of Student Life, was one of many prominent staff, faculty and community members who joined students to celebrate the “soft” opening of the BCC—the center will be fully operational in early May.

“Students, individually and united with their groups and organizations, have fought for this space,” Karla Foster, campus and community liaison for African American Student Services and interim programming coordinator for the Multicultural Student Center, said. “As we push to make this space a ‘more inclusive space for all,’ this event serves as an opportunity to reflect on the past, and thank those who came before us, while also looking ahead at what more needs to be done.”

Speakers highlighted the importance of what the new center reflects for students past, present and future. Symonette and UW-Madison’s Black Student Union President Marquise Mays honored their ancestors and the land of First Nations on which the center stands during the libation ceremony.

Together, Symonette and Mays walked to the four corners of the room, following the direction of the sun’s circulation to be in line with the Earth’s rhythm, and spread tobacco, a gift from a member of the Lac du Flambeau Nation.

According to Mays, the BCC will serve as a hub of comfort and unity for current students as well as those to come, particularly those who may feel separated from the community or alone.

“I cannot wait to see what this space does as far as expanding our idea of blackness to where it includes every facet and identity within blackness and not just this monolithic blackness that too many people often see,” Mays said.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank said while there remains work to be done regarding inclusion on campus, she is optimistic about the BCC’s future.

“This space, I hope, will reflect the commitment that each of you has made to the inclusion of black students, staff and faculty here on campus,” Blank said.

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