An equitable Bryan Center

[Opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the organizations I serve.]

It is very symbolic that the Career Center is taking the Center for Multicultural Affairs former space. It is emblematic of how Duke does not listen to the overwhelming needs of its students. In surveys DSG sent out last year, only 14% of students wanted the Career Center to be in the Bryan Center while over 50% of students wanted some form of identity, cultural, or religious space. Overwhelmingly, Duke students also wanted the Women’s Center to hold space in the Bryan Center. Yet, Duke has actively shrunk existing equity space. Instead of the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) having the entirety of one floor, Duke has put the Women’s Center, Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (CSGD), Student Involvement and Leadership, and the CMA on one floor. While the second floor technically provides space for equity-based student groups, the amount of functional programming space has been greatly reduced and there are student groups such as DUU and DSG within the space. It seems like the only minority Duke cared about was the minority of students who wanted the Career Center in the Bryan Center. Duke has moved its equity centers with no vision or plan of what they will look like. This creates a volatile environment for those who rely on these centers. Giving the Career Center the entirety of the bottom floor in the CMA’s old space provides much more lone functional programming space than all of the equity-based centers and the entirety of space meant for Latinx and AAPI students on campus. I challenge administration at Duke to provide the results of a survey with over 500 respondents where a majority of students wanted the Career Center to move into the Bryan Center, student groups to be put into offices, and equity centers to experience a size reduction. 

Before CMA: La Casa was placed into 0006, Latinx students on campus held the closet between the bathrooms on the 000 Bryan Center floor. When this placement happened on April 3, 2015, Latinx students stated, “It’s definitely just a temporary space—we’re looking to have a bigger office space because not even our council can fit in there. We have a council of 14 people and 14 people do not fit in there.” I challenge administration to find an office in the 101 space where 14 students can fit comfortably, the current space is not adequate. In demands released by nearly every Latinx organization last year, including a plethora of intersectional identities, demand number one was “We demand Duke establish a Latinx cultural center on campus.” The petition for these demands has over 300 signatures. Duke heard these pleas, actively ignored them, and instead shrunk spaces for Latinx students across campus. It is quite unfathomable how Duke translated this into shrinking spaces for Latinx students and reducing the size of La Casa. Additionally, Latinx students aren’t the only ones who suffer from “temporary options” provided by the university. Many other equity-based organizations do. Duke Disability Alliance also advocated for a space and was given a “temporary” option, but updates from administration have fallen silent. This trend of offering a “temporary space” has been consistent and unfulfilling for equity organizations. These two identities are perfect examples of Duke consistently misleading students. Organizations did in fact want flex and office space, but as an addition to existing space for marginalized students not as a replacement for the CMA in its entirety. The Duke Endowment increased by 4.2 billion dollars last year, and for the last few decades all cultural groups have been told that there is no funding for a freestanding cultural center. This is wrong, Duke chooses not to invest in the future of equity. By the recent Juneteenth response, it is evident the diversity on campus is tired of posturing emails rather than action. 

Equity to me does not mean placing all equity based centers onto the top floor, in order to move the Career Center into the Bryan Center. It is baffling that Duke hired Sasaki, an architectural firm, to solve Bryan Center spacing issues but wants students to put their time and effort into a renovations committee with no compensation. Equity-based centers and organizations taking a size and functionality reduction for years in favor of the Career Center moving in is jarring. CMA: La Casa and CMA: AAPI Base don’t even have a fridge but now the Career Center has three, how does this make sense? The Career Center has moved to a mostly online format. Many employers now have work from home options and professional schools now often have online interview options because they understand travel and in person interviews are an imminent equity issue – the future is online. Meanwhile, equity based centers need large open spaces and resources where their staff can play active roles because students often come to staff with sensitive issues regarding race, sexuality, and gender. With a functional center, students receive the privacy and attention needed by staff. Plenty of other universities such as NC State and UNC also follow this model for their equity based centers. This move is not practical. Furthermore, if Duke intended to bring diversity to its Career Center, the Career Center used to have drop in hours at both CMA: La Casa and CMA: AAPI Base, meeting students where they are most comfortable. This move also runs in contrast to Duke’s recent centennial project which prides itself on being more inclusive in a renewed campus community. 

It is a great step to provide more visibility and make these centers more accessible by placing them in the Bryan Center. It is a great step to give historically underrepresented students such as MENA, LIFE, and Caribbean students space. However, it is hard to give upper level administration even credit for that. It was students who brought these organizations into conversations and administration continues to ignore the needs of some groups such as Hindu Students Association which was in the original demands letter. Moreover, this is only part of the issue. Functionality, programming, and privacy of the given space matters, especially if the Career Center is receiving more of all these things. Perhaps rather than criticize existing cultural spaces such as the CMA, upper level Duke administration should direct its criticism towards the Career Center. All cultural groups deserve so much more. By expanding equity centers, Duke can be a beacon of hope in this country where equity projects addressing race, gender, and sexuality across the nation are being stripped away from students. Instead, Duke chooses to prioritize the Career Center that can be easily offered online and take a massive step backwards in diversity. This move is a shameful mark on Duke’s history that students will not forget. Sexual assault is commonplace at college institutions and cultural organizations experience frequent harassment. The stability of these centers is not just a “demand”, it is a necessity for the safety and survival of many students on campus. I argue, this move was never about students, their demands or equity otherwise Duke would have addressed all our demands (1,2,3,4,5) and prioritized our wellbeing over the summer.

Duke has once again failed diversity on campus. The Bryan Center must remain a student facing area, promoting equity and inclusivity. The diversity on campus can not be treated as an afterthought. Duke must publicly reveal its survey data from Sasaki or others regarding the Bryan Center including racial and ethnic breakdown, provide more functional space and programming space to equity-based centers while renovations occur, provide more funding for every cultural group to combat programming concerns, reduce the size of the Career Center, better reflect student needs off survey data specifically regarding expansion of the Women’s Center and CMA, provide updates on the Gender Violence Prevention and Intervention Center, and publicly announce a commitment to funding and renovation plans over the next two years that students can hold Duke administration accountable to. Upper level administration at Duke has an obligation to keep its student body informed, and its methods transparent not just to students but to alumni donors and those who run these centers. Additionally, without a plan or mass message about the move and its logistics going into fall, many students outside student organizations still remain confused about the move. This severely limits and stalls the ability to work on diversity programming and disrupts the safety of students who rely on these centers. To be clear, these are not demands but rather suggested action Duke has not taken but can easily resolve. I also suggest the upper level administration behind this move take a tour of the Latinx Perkins exhibit or perhaps even read the original demands themselves to the Bryan Center move. The diversity on your campus are not “poster children for brochures” – we matter. Students will continue to fight for the right to be safe and welcomed on this campus no matter the circumstance. 

Anthony Salgado 

Trinity ‘24


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