Months after Duke paused plans, a change in Bryan Center office spaces is underway this summer.
Administrators initially said in October that the Career Center would move into the first floor of the Bryan Center. Identity group leaders responded that students were not sufficiently consulted, and plans were put on hold. Since then, student leaders have called for greater collaboration and input.
Shruti Desai, associate vice president of student affairs, and Leslie Heusted, interim assistant vice president for student affairs, met with student leaders on June 7, presenting a short-term Plan 1.5 to move most student affinity spaces to the second floor of the Bryan Center.
Meanwhile, they will work toward a long-term Plan 2.0 through the fall and winter for summer 2023, according to a FAQ document sent to attendees.
Desai said administrators received feedback saying that Student Affairs was just doing what was easiest, but disputed that characterization.
“This is what is the most efficient. I think if we were doing what was easy, we would have just moved the Career Center in and not gone through all of these steps," Desai said. "We're really trying to move the division and our students and our spaces towards equity."
Incorporating student feedback
In October 2021, administrators sparked frustration among student leaders when they announced that the Career Center would move to the first-floor suite of the Bryan Center, BC101, which had been vacated by the Office of Student Affairs. Student identity and cultural groups remarked in an open letter that administrators had previously promised the space “to multiple student groups who have been demanding more space for decades.”
By early November, administrators had put plans to move the Career Center on hold.
Following the pause, administrators held stakeholder meetings in November with about 75 students that “stressed the transparency of information and encouraged sharing of information with constituents,” according to the FAQ document.
During these meetings, students supported moving the CMA out of the bottom floor, advocated for individual offices and expressed interest in the open space in BC101.
Administrators then signed a contract with architectural firm Sasaki to implement student feedback into the building design. Following a co-mapping survey with close to 1,000 responses, the design company presented options for the building’s layout in February.
In open design workshops held in April, an estimated 200 participants reaffirmed their preference to move the Center of Multicultural Affairs out of the “basement” to the second floor of the Bryan Center.
A “final scenario meeting” was held on May 19, which maintained that the middle level of the Bryan Center was student groups’ preferred location. Desai acknowledged that the demand to move the CMA from the bottom floor has been decade-long and ongoing.
“One of the consistent demands was to get CMA out of the [bottom] floor. That's important for the sake of visibility, it's important for the sake of representation,” she said.
But Desai also noted that conversations with CMA staff indicated that they preferred to stay on the third floor. According to the FAQ document, administrators offered to “invest in renovating the CMA,” but the plan did not come to fruition after student leaders communicated that this was not an adequate solution.
The FAQ document added that administrators also sent “monthly space survey updates to 75+ students” and created a “Space Survey Lounge” to get more feedback.
The short-term plan would have the AAPI Base, La Casa and the Black Student Affinity Space move into neighboring offices this summer in hopes of fostering solidarity between groups.
“We're hoping that [it] builds what we heard from students: ‘We don't really know each other in these groups.’ When you’re neighbors, we hope you will get to know each other,” Desai said.
In the 2022-2023 school year, Student Affairs will allocate an additional $2,000 per semester for communities using the AAPI Base and La Casa in order to overcome the challenges of building community and holding programs with a new location.
“It could be to have some open houses, it could be to buy a gaming system, it could be to go out to eat, and I'll hold that money, and folks can just reach out to me as needed,” Desai said.
In response to a question from Anthony Salgado, junior and president of Mi Gente, asking why student groups are required to move at this time despite a lengthy construction plan, Desai pointed to logistical concerns of staff members moving their offices multiple times.
The FAQ document stated that administration is still “not clear on what type of construction is necessary,” and that this plan would create “an opportunity for a more intentional design of space” after student groups have already been using it.
“It is also not a good use of fiscal resources to move offices twice and we do not have enough temporary space to allocate to the various departments,” the document continued.
According to the presentation shared during the meeting, Plan 1.5 also includes “options for additional affinities,” which Desai described as undesignated spaces for future affinity groups who opt for a space in the Bryan Center.
The map of the plan also designates spaces for Caribbean students, graduate students and a UCAE finance team to help student groups navigate financial concerns for student groups. Additionally, the plan proposes an “Advisor of the Day” staffing model to assist student groups in navigating paperwork and programming.
“We’ve heard from you all that [the] finance process is almost impossible to navigate, and we're hoping [that] having someone in that space will help some of that process and make it a little bit easier for you all to access funding and to process some of your paperwork,” Desai said.
The plan includes the creation of a student-run committee “to advise on renovation and space allocation,” according to the meeting presentation.
Desai said that students should be in charge of deciding key renovation logistics, comparing the proposed committee to SOFC’s student-run allocation of money.
Desai then laid out a timeline for a long-term plan beginning in fall 2022, noting that the process will have to be expedited due to logistical issues.
“We will have to start some of [the actions labeled under fall 2022] now, because part of the challenge of why we can't do construction this summer is due to the supply chain,” she said. “In reality, it takes about two years for us at Duke to make decisions about funding, about space renovations.”
While a committee overseeing “renovation, design and space allocation” is set to be created in fall 2022, winter break will see hands-on construction, including tearing down smaller walls and moving in furniture for the new rooms. In summer 2023, walls will then be rebuilt for La Casa and Base. Any additional renovations are set to be finished by winter 2023, according to the presentation.
However, some aspects of the plan are still in flux. Desai pointed to an ongoing conversation with CMA staff, which still prefers to stay on the bottom floor of the Bryan Center. A permanent space for Duke Student Government is also up in the air, as Desai pointed to “some history” between DSG and identity groups that may require separation between the two offices.
Finally, Desai returned to the proposed student-led space allocation process.
“That is really a student process and not administrators making decisions about what that should be. Should [space allocation] be based on numbers? Should that be based on funding? Should that be based on who else doesn't have space? I think those are all some things that we need to have further conversations about,” she said.
Student leaders’ reactions
During the Zoom meeting, student groups entered breakout rooms to discuss their reactions to the proposal and share any “needs,” “pros,” “cons” and “suggestions and solutions” anonymously.
Some student leaders felt that the proposal of a student-led planning committee was unclear. Two notes under “needs” stated that students wished for “clear, transparent communication to all involved groups,” “including transparency about how the current undesignated spaces will be assigned.”
Heusted pointed to the “many different ways that other universities have students involved in the process for allocating space,” noting that the decision making system could potentially build on ideas from other schools.
Zara Thalji, sophomore and Asian Student Association political co-chair, asked if student groups are responsible for deciding the usage of the space among themselves. A note under “needs” also reflected this concern, asking for “space for umbrella [organizations] that comprises the affinity groups that they ‘umbrella[,’] not a BSA space but a Black [Affinity] Student Space.”
Questions also arose about creating spaces for groups that did not previously have spaces, such as first-generation/low income students, to which Desai responded by acknowledging the need to establish more pathways for students to advocate for space.
“For so long, La Casa, BSA and AAPI Base have had space, but there has been no opportunity other than through demands for student groups to petition for space or ask for space. As Duke has become more diverse, as more folks are coming in with multi-racial identities [and] intersectional identities, we just haven't kept up,” she said. “We have to create some kind of process that allows for the fluidity of identity that we're seeing at Duke.”
Desai also deferred to precedent set by the CMA and noted that much of the policy regarding sharing space has not been codified.
“Historically, [negotiating shared spaces between affinity groups] has been through the CMA because we wanted to make sure those kinds of organizations under those umbrellas had access to that space,” she said.
A “suggestions and solutions” note also hoped for an “assurance plan/contract of a timeline for space renovations.” Desai expressed hope that a “good skeleton” of the process will be developed by fall 2022.
Desai said that some aspects of the plan still needed work.
“I also want to say [that] this is a short-term solution. We have a longer-term priority to either completely rehab the Bryan Center or to find money for a freestanding cultural center,” she said. “There's a short-term kind of thing that we need to figure out, and there's a longer-term, actual solution that we need.”
Desai sent an email to student leaders on June 7 detailing the immediate next steps of the process, which The Chronicle obtained.
A walk-through of the space was conducted in the week of June 20, according to Desai’s email. By the week of June 27, all items in the spaces will be labeled, and movers are scheduled to move items into new spaces by the week of July 5.
After this, student representatives can move into new assigned spaces.
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Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.