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After three decades of minority student activism and ultimately, organizing for a more centrally located multicultural center and more emphasis on students of color at the University, the University of Michigan broke ground Wednesday morning at the William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center’s new location on State Street. Alumni and students representing the Black Action Movement, #BBUM and current members of the Black Student Union gathered along with administrators at the construction site with shovels in hand at the spot north of the Michigan Union and between the Kelsey Museum and Betsy Barbour Residence.
The groundbreaking comes four years after #BBUM movement demands revitalized student requests for a more centrally located Trotter Center. Recent alum Logan Pratt, Trotter Student Advisory Committee member and former historian and academic concerns chair of the Black Student Union, recalled his time advocating for the building.
“I knew all the original members that really came up with the (BAMN) seven demands, the BBUM campaign and from there I really wanted to get involved,” he said. “Overall, it’s just kind of surreal, it’s an amazing thing to see all the work being done, all the nights planning. I hope this new center will serve as a new home for students and add to the legacy that is already there.”
The University chapter of BAMN — the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Acrion, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary — came up with a list of seven demands in 2014, including: demanding the University give an equal opportunity to implement change, demanding the University make available housing on central campus for those of lower socioeconomic status, demanding an opportunity to congregate and share experiences in a new Trotter Multicultural Center located on central campus. In addition, demands were made for an opportunity to educate and be educated about America’s historical treatment and marginalization of colored groups through race and ethnicity requirements throughout all schools and colleges within the University, a demand for an equal opportunity to succeed with emergency scholarships for black students in need of financial support, a demand for increased exposure of all documents within the Bentley Historical Library about the University and its past dealings with race relations and a demand to increase in Black representation on campus equal to 10 percent.
The first floor of the building will contain space for gathering, collaborating and concentration, while the second floor will contain space for student organizations, student lounging and student and staff workspace. Finally, the ground floor will contain a flexible multi-purpose room similar to the lounge in the current building. Construction is projected to be completed in winter 2019.
The Trotter Center was first founded in 1971 in response to BAMN as a center for Black students to partake in meetings and events. The center expanded in the 1980s to include students of all backgrounds and ethnicities, and moved to its current location on Washtenaw Avenue after a fire. Following #BBUM, the University Board of Regents approved the $10 million request for the new building in December 2015.
University President Mark Schlissel referenced student activism as a generational battle of inclusion.
“While we celebrate the Trotter Multicultural Center, we must always remember that the path here was not an easy one for many in our community,” he said. “It is also a journey that is not yet finished here at the University or within our larger society. The new center will be a new hub of hope for our campus, one that unites us as a community around our most cherished values: the inseparable values of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
LSA senior Shavon Edwards, a former BSU peace officer, emphasized the new Trotter Center as a starting point.
“It is a start, definitely a stronger start than other initiatives going on,” she said. “I think it is long, long overdue. Yes, this is here, but what are we going to do with it?”
The new location has not escaped contention, as residents of Barbour and nearby Helen Newberry residences expressed concerns upon the selection of the location back in 2015. Later in April 2016, University executives cheered a $3 million donation by Regent Mark Bernstein (D). Many Black students, however, balked at the University’s intent to name the building after Bernstein. He withdrew the contribution that summer.
LSA senior Cescily Barnes, vice speaker of BSU, pointed to the importance of a central location.
“This is truly inspiring, makes me want to keep working, and I am excited to see the results,” she said. “Having Trotter on Central will inspire students and bring across more allies and hopefully ingrain more relationships within the students on campus.”
E. Royster Harper, vice president of Student Life, finished the ceremony with a call to collective action.
“It is possible in this time of profound disruption to find a path to contribution and need, if we turn our attention away from issues beyond our control and use our collective influence and power in the service of other,” she said. “When we choose to use our collective power … we break ground.”