Identity group leaders are frustrated that plans for an office space on the entry floor of the Bryan Center were made without sufficient student input.
The Career Center will be moving into the first floor suite currently occupied by the Office of Student Affairs, according to a Tuesday email from student leaders to administrators obtained by The Chronicle.
“Hearing about these plans is concerning to all of us, as few, if any, student leaders were informed of or consulted on these plans,” the email stated.
The email also noted that the Women’s Center may potentially relocate from Crowell Building on East Campus to the business and finance offices in the Bryan Center—a move that the student leaders support.
The email’s signatories were Duke Student Government, Asian Students Association, Black Student Alliance, Duke Diya, Mi Gente, Native American Student Alliance, Duke Disability Alliance, Hindu Students Association and Students of the Caribbean Association.
Some of those signatories—namely ASA, Mi Gente, Diya and DSG—also signed an open letter to Duke administration published Tuesday afternoon in The Chronicle. That letter asserts that the Career Center decision was made behind closed doors “despite previously promising the space to multiple student groups.”
“We were only informed of the decision to move the Career Center into the Bryan Center when members of the Duke Student Government learned Student Affairs and the Career Center privately arranged move-in dates and even furniture plans for the space since at least the summer of this year,” they wrote in the open letter.
The signatories asked in the email that “the [Career Center] move be rectified with the needs of marginalized student communities in mind,” given that current space is “largely inadequate.” Their proposal included flex space for use by all marginalized students and “dedicated space for groups such as Duke Disability Alliance (which was granted a very temporary and insufficient space), Hindu Students Association [and] Duke Students of the Caribbean Association.” They also requested a meeting with administrators.
Plans to relocate the Student Affairs team to an administrative building were initially announced in spring 2020. The move “would open up space for more student-facing spaces and functions, including potential new space for the Center for Multicultural Affairs,” which “sparked excitement of much-awaited change for multicultural groups,” according to the email from student leaders.
Despite this, the signatories wrote that the decision to grant the space to the Career Center does not reflect student needs.
“Considering that the Career Center was able to operate effectively during the pandemic and offer remote appointments, not to mention the fact that the Career Center has also been hosting in-person drop-in appointments in the Bryan Center without allocated space, it makes little sense as to why the Career Center must receive some of the most prominent student space on campus,” they wrote.
The email cited the results of a survey shared in the Oct. 21 DSG email to the undergraduate student body in which students were asked how they thought the office space should be used. Over half of the votes were for “some version of an identity, cultural or religious center,” while only 14% were for the Career Center. The email also pointed to previous demands for adequate identity and cultural spaces on campus, including recent requests from Mobilizing Asian Students Together and NASA.
The signatories proposed that the Career Center move to the bottom floor suite currently occupied by University Center Activities and Events, and that the centrally located accessible spaces in the Bryan Center be given to groups without adequate space.
“Ultimately, relocating the Career Center into a premier Bryan Center space directly relays a focus on career success over personal identity and comfort,” the signatories wrote.
Mary Pat McMahon, vice president and vice provost for student affairs, responded to the email late Tuesday evening. A copy of her response was obtained by The Chronicle.
McMahon wrote that she “[welcomes] a meeting in the near future” and offered an explanation for the decision to give the Career Center the space.
“Doing so allows the Career Center team—a significantly restructured and far more equity-focused group than it was this time two years ago—to work much more closely with student leadership, student organizations, the identity and cultural centers and West Campus resource hubs,” she wrote.
McMahon noted that there are also considerations such as square footage, office design and space needs that informed the move.
She wrote that “tangible and direct progress is happening” in terms of “ensuring that students from marginalized identities have expanded resources, space and staffing support.”
“In the last month alone, we’ve advanced and solved major initiatives in partnership with more than half the organizations signing this email and the open letter,” she wrote.
However, McMahon concluded by writing that the students’ approach to raising the issue “troubles [her].” She wrote that she and her colleagues have met with leaders from all the represented groups in the email this fall and have “some great momentum partnering on much-needed change.” She claimed that she shared information about the Career Center move at a CMA Alliance meeting a few weeks ago on Sept. 29.
“I have open office hours and am on a first-name basis with many of you,” McMahon wrote. “I consider you to be valued and prioritized partners and leaders. I hope we can get back on the same page.”
When asked for comment by The Chronicle, McMahon noted her email response to the identity groups.
In addition to McMahon, some of the administrators who received the email from student leaders were President Vincent Price, Provost Sally Kornbluth, Executive Vice President Daniel Ennis and Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education.
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Nadia Bey is a Trinity senior and digital strategy director for The Chronicle’s 118th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 117.
Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.