Multicultural Student Life, formerly Minority Student Affairs, has been an integral part of the University for over 25 years. The success of the programs and services offered, and the commitment to students were all ingredients that led to the University’s decision to build a new Black Cultural Center. The new Center opened in June 2002 and is a testament to the University’s commitment to its entire student population.
The building that was previously known as the Black Cultural Center has had many lives in the past. Initially, this structure was a private residence. Once acquired by the University, the building began to take on many lives. This building housed the School of Social Work, School of Nursing, Student Health Clinic, Dean of Students and, its previous occupants, the Black Cultural Center. The building served as the Black Cultural Center for over 25 years-taking on the character of a “home away from home” environment that it is most famous for. Parents and students alike continually commented about the warmth they felt when they entered the building.
During the 1970’s, The University of Tennessee’s main campus experienced a steady increase in the number of enrolled African-American students. A growing concern for the students was a centralized place for them to assemble, discuss issues, interact and study. The students proposed a Center to provide programs and activities that met their unique needs.
This recommendation faced opposition from the University as well as the local black community. Community leaders and representatives believed that the students were segregating themselves-which was contrary to the civil rights era. The students firmly believed that their commitment to secure a Center was just. They strongly desired to preserve and validate their history, culture and accomplishments.
The students questioned the existence of Fraternity Row and the Panhellenic Building which were not inclusive but exclusive. After two years of pursuing this noble cause and collaborating with the community and the administration, the Center was opened in the summer of 1976.
Multicultural Student Life sponsored programs that ranged from cultural events, Martin Luther King Day activities, Black History Month, a dance troupe, a drama ensemble and a tutoring program. In addition, the students established an Afrikan-American Warriors (men’s) and an Afrikan-American Queens (women’s) intramural teams.
Multicultural Student Life also sponsored a student play each quarter. Two graduate students were hired; one was responsible for the dance troupe and the other for the cultural programs and tutoring. Today, the staff includes the Director, Associate Director for Retention and Student Engagement, Associate Director for Diversity and Multicultural Education, Accounting Specialist, Program Resource Specialist, Facility Assistant, three Graduate Research Assistants, 15-20 Student Assistants and 40-50 undergraduate and graduate Tutors. Notable personalities in the arts, politics, activism and sciences have been brought to the campus for the enrichment of the students, staff and local community through the programs and events offered through the Center.
Multicultural Student Life stands as a testament of the University’s commitment to diversity and appreciation of differences in its student and staff populations. We invite you to visit the University of Tennessee African American Hall of Fame housed within the Frieson Black Cultural Center to learn more about the history of African-Americans and the University.