Clubhouse creates cultural space

Reporter, Tribune Chronicle

WARREN — Walking around Kent State University at Trumbull, freshman psychology major Rayona Goodrich said she sometimes feels like she doesn’t belong, being a black woman attending a predominately white institution.

“It makes me feel out of place and that I’m alone here,” Goodrich, of Warren, said.

Building Black Leaders program coordinator Tiffany Tyree said hearing these accounts of black students’ experiences on campus led her to establish the Cultural Clubhouse in the Student Services department for black students to meet people of similar backgrounds and cultural experiences. Student Services is located in the campus Workforce Development and Continuing Studies building.

The clubhouse was funded by a $25,000 grant from the David Tod Arrel Trust, a private foundation managed by PNC Charitable Trusts. The grant was awarded as part of its mission to support diversity, equity and inclusion.

A portion of the grant went toward the founding of the clubhouse space with another portion going toward a scholarship for students who are part of the Building Black Leaders program.

It also allowed the BBL program to create two student employment opportunities for a “student mentor program assistant” who will help with facilitating cultural events and help oversee clubhouse operations.

Tyree said integrating into a college campus is crucial to a student’s success, which she argues is equally true when black students try to adapt to a majority white campus, because of not building those shared cultural experiences.

“Some of the feedback black students gave showed they felt a disconnect or that they’re usually either the only black people in a class or there’s one to two others,” Tyree said.

For decades, multicultural or black cultural centers have existed on college campuses, and are meant to empower minority students with the opportunity to address political and civil rights issues while also unifying those students by sharing cultural information and creating events targeted toward specific demographics.

When KSU at Trumbull Dean Bill Ayres sees the university slogan “You Belong Here” while traveling on the highway, he said he believes those are only words if not met with action.

“Higher education has long been a space that is largely white, largely male, largely wealthy. American universities, with some notable and shining exceptions, were largely built to serve people who look like me. Words alone don’t change that — it takes action,” Ayres said.

The racial makeup of KSU at Trumbull consists of about 170 black students compared to the 1,800 white students on campus.

Ayres said the BBL program and clubhouse are early steps toward further action the university plans on taking to make the campus more inclusive.

The space will not just be black-only, Ayres clarified. He said the clubhouse will create an opportunity for students of other races to use the space to learn a perspective different from their own, either through conversation or the selection of black-authored literature available there.

For students who may argue whether the space is fair, Tyree asks them to place themselves into the shoes of a minority group on campus.

“I’d ask them to think about if they were a person of color going to a school that is predominantly white and having to adapt to a way of learning that doesn’t connect to who you are within your racial identity. This is an opportunity to sort out those challenges and difficulties. I tell students you can be allies and do cultural programming together. We can have you involved with discussions and programs,” Tyree said.

Updated: Saturday, December 3, 2022 01:02 AM