by Emily Carrigan–
Though the first black student was admitted to Virginia Tech in 1953, Kristen Swanson Houston, assistant director of the Intercultural Engagement Center, said it wasn’t until the early 1980’s that the majority of student organizations for black and African American students were founded.
“That’s 30-some years after black and African American student were first admitted to Virginia Tech with Irving Peddrew being the first,” Swanson Houston said.
Today, it’s likely difficult for the majority of the student population at Virginia Tech to imagine how campus might not feel like home to some. Swanson Houston this was true for black and African American students in the early 1980’s, and is unfortunately still felt today.
“Lots of things were going on in the climate of the nation in the ‘80’s, not much different than the things we’re experiencing right now, unfortunately, and there was a very obvious need for a place for black and African American students to feel safe,” Swanson Houston said.
Swanson Houston said this started a conversation among the leaders of the newly founded black and African American student organizations, including Brian Roberts, who was, according to a webpage sponsored by the IEC, “instrumental in the founding of the Virginia Tech chapter of the NAACP and the Black Organization Council,” and is also known for founding and writing the first constitution and bylaws for the Black Organization Council.
“We didn’t get that space until 1991 and the Dean of Students at the time, Dr. Barbara Pendergrass … was the person who really launched the search for the creation of the space, the Black Cultural Center,” Swanson Houston said.
The BCC has since resided in room 126 in the Squires Student Center. A webpage about Virginia Tech’s cultural centers sponsored by the IEC says the space is “an important component of Virginia Tech’s efforts to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.”
“The space was created truly just for community building opportunities and for black and African American students to feel safe and find community in a place that was so big because they weren’t finding it in the residence halls and they weren’t finding it in the classrooms,” Swanson Houston said.
The BCC is open for anyone during regular business hours between Monday-Friday. Swanson Houston said during this time, it’s serves as “another living room on campus.”
“That’s exactly what it is. You’ll see people watching TV, they’re studying, they’re eating lunch, they’re just hanging out and they’re probably sleeping on the couches,” Swanson Houston said.
The BCC can be reserved after 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and on the weekends for programs or meetings.
On Thursday, April 21, there will be a celebration of the BCC’s 25th anniversary from 5-7 p.m. Swanson Houston described the event as an open reception with a brief program from about 6 or 6:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Dr. Pendergrass and Carol Crawford Smith, the first director of the BCC, are among some of the notable alumni expected to be in attendance. This celebration will also kick off the 2016 Black Alumni Reunion weekend, which will continue through April 24.