Cultural affinity spaces will return to the bottom floor of the Bryan Center in response to space concerns from affinity groups, after the University previously said it would reserve that space for the Career Center.
In October 2021, administrators announced that the Career Center would move to a suite on the bottom floor of the Bryan Center. The move sparked frustration among student leaders, who claimed that administrators previously promised the space to multiple affinity groups. Plans to move the Career Center to the bottom floor office were put on hold in November 2021.
In following meetings between student groups and administrators, student leaders advocated for individual office spaces and hoped to move the Center for Multicultural Affairs out of the bottom floor of the Bryan Center. In response to proposed renovations to the Bryan Center, affinity groups temporarily moved into the second floor of the Bryan Center during the summer of 2022, while the Career Center occupied the bottom floor.
However, student leaders found throughout the 2022-2023 school year that the new rooms they were assigned to were not conducive to building the communities they hoped for. Several affinity group members felt that their groups could not connect to or felt uncomfortable in the smaller spaces.
In a May meeting, the Space Advisory Committee, a group of student representatives dedicated to working with administrators to assess space allocation, recommended a move back to the bottom floor, according to an email to The Chronicle from Student Affairs. The Career Center and Conference & Event Services team will move to the second floor.
The proposal was approved by Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president of student affairs, in late May.
However, specifics about the move are still unclear, to the confusion of some affinity group leaders.
“I think I'm still left in the dark still, or I really didn't know what the school was planning or what is happening,” said junior Emily Ngo, the space representative for the Asian American Pacific Islander Bridge to Action, Solidarity and Education. “All I know is that we are moving down.”
According to an email from Student Affairs, the move took place because second-floor spaces did not “adequately [support] the programmatic and planning needs of our cultural affinity groups.”
“Students mentioned programming space that allows for large groups, space for small group gathering, and coalition-building space. The first-floor areas provide more space overall and a significant increase in shared coalition-building space,” the email read.
While student groups could reserve a larger shared space for programming while on the second floor, the assigned rooms in the Cultural Affinity Space had limited space for programming and community building, according to sophomore Jaden Coward, the space representative for the Students of the Caribbean Association (SOCA).
Bre Barrett, a junior and president of SOCA, noted that the group often could not host more than 10 people in its rooms, which often came with office equipment that made it difficult to establish a “collective affinity space.”
Other student voices also called for increased visibility of affinity group spaces in accordance with historic demands from affinity groups, although the execution of these demands feels imperfect.
Sophomore Mariana Meza, the space representative for La Casa, noted that affinity groups’ demands for visibility have “always been also in the larger context of a multicultural center, or a space that is just for these student groups and these cultural affinity spaces,” instead of a move to a specific floor.
Luz Ruby Valdes Pena, a junior and president of Mi Gente, pointed to demands from Latine student organizations, including demands for more Latinx faculty and staff representation, as a form of visibility.
Valdes believes that affinity groups’ demands for visibility were “flipped” by Duke in conversations about the Bryan Center to adhere to the University’s views on cultural affinity groups, misinterpreting the groups’ explicit demands in the process.
“When we were saying that we wanted to be visible, [Duke] sort of took it as like, ‘Okay, here you go. Second floor instead of first floor,’” Valdes said. “We're visually seen, but we want to see ourselves more intentionally, in spaces where we aren’t present.”
According to Student Affairs, more details about the move, including a timeline and opening, will be made available in “coming weeks.” The Space Advisory Committee will continue to discuss changes to the design, allocation and use of affinity group spaces.
Coward, who was at the May meeting of the Space Advisory Committee discussing changes to the space, said that the committee was presented with a choice between staying on the second floor or moving to the bottom floor. Few student representatives were available to vote at the meeting, as it was convened after the school year ended.
According to Coward, staying on the second floor would have meant a clearer timeline and faster renovations, but all student groups’ wants would not have been met. Meanwhile, a move to the bottom floor would have denoted a “higher chance that everyone would be happier in the long run,” without a set timeline.
Student Affairs wrote that while the Committee worked with architects on potential remodels that could make the Student Group and Affinity Lounge “a better fit,” the square footage and “barriers to redesign” made it difficult to come to a clear solution.
According to the space representatives, the logistics behind the moves are still to be decided, including space distribution. Meza said that space representatives were told that since the larger acreage of the bottom floor compared to the second floor meant that student affinity groups as a whole would be getting more space, but that it is still unclear what the space’s distribution would look like.
“It's really difficult to gauge right now, how students feel with everyone being off campus and with this decision being so unclear,” Meza stated. “As far as I know, most of our communities are aware of these changes as of now and just expecting, I guess, for this to develop a little bit more.”
Barrett and Coward both conveyed that they were “grateful” to have a space, given that SOCA did not have a space in previous years. Coward noted that the bottom floor in particular provides more visibility and a larger base for SOCA programming.
Others expressed concerns about the execution of the move given the limited information available to them.
Ngo felt that the initial move from the bottom floor to the second floor “caught [students] off guard,” pointing out that the move relied on students invested in AAPI Base or the Asian Students Association to “take on that labor” of moving and organizing.
“And now that we're moving back to the first floor, it's a little frustrating because it's like, ‘Okay, so what was the original move for if we're just going back down?’” Valdes said. “Now that we're going back down, and we also don't know when and what it's going to look like, it feels like [Duke] can’t find a place to put us.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Audrey Wang is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 119th volume.