Wednesday afternoon, more than 50 University of Michigan student leaders, staff and faculty gathered in the Trotter Multicultural Center on Washtenaw Avenue one final time for the Trotter to Trotter Community Walk ahead of the grand opening of the new building on State Street Thursday morning. Mingling over food and drinks, attendees acknowledged the work of past activists and reminisced over memories in the Washtenaw building before walking down South University Street and through the Diag to the new building on State Street.
According to Vice President for Student Life E. Royster Harper, the initiative to move the Trotter Center from Washtenaw Avenue to a more central location was the result of over a decade of student activism. Harper explained students of color pointed out the original location of the Trotter Center on the periphery of campus seemed to reflect communities of color being on the periphery of the University as well. The Washtenaw location’s distance from the center of campus also posed accessibility and safety issues, Harper said.
According to Harper, University efforts to move the Trotter Center to State Street began four years ago.
“I think this is a powerful and emotional experience for a lot of people who love the University, who want the University to be a place where everyone feels they have a home and they belong,” Harper said. “So I think what’s wonderful about the new location is that it’s in the heart of campus… So what we’re saying is that’s in the heart of who we are, what we do and what we’re committed to … For me, the new Trotter is about a new beginning on our campus with each other and for each other.”
According to Trotter Center Director Julio Cardona, many alumni have called him voicing excitement and support for the new Trotter Center. Cardona said the move to State Street from Washtenaw Avenue represents collaboration and multiculturalism among a variety of student groups.
“What we saw in recent months is a collective of student groups where before everyone was in their own silos,” Cardona said. “That to me is the students saying, ‘Let’s just work together and really for the greater good.’ I think that will be a lasting impression. I hope students can take this experience to their career, and then explain to their friends and co-workers what true multiculturalism could be like because they experienced that here.”
Before the walk to Trotter Center on State Street, students, staff and faculty shared how the Trotter Center has impacted their time at the University and what the Trotter Center location change means to them.
LSA senior Camyrea Barnes, secretary of the Black Student Union, recalled attending her first BSU meeting at the Trotter Center her freshman year. After years of long walks to the Trotter Center on Washtenaw Avenue for BSU meetings, Barnes said the opening of the Trotter Center on State Street is an emotional moment for her.
“We made this walk faithfully every other Thursday to the BSU meeting,” Barnes said. “Now I’m graduating, and seeing this space that’s being opened on State Street on a central location for Black students to go to and congregate and have mass meetings, knowing the decades of work that’s been put in by students to have this moment, it’s very emotional. My heart is just so full that it’s actually happening.”
LSA sophomore Cristina Guytingco, programming chair of United Asian American Organizations and a member of the Trotter on State planning committee, said the Trotter Center is an important space for communities of color to host a variety of events.
“Trotter was the only space where we could have events because everywhere else you had to pay, you had to book, you had to navigate all these regulations, but we always could count on Trotter,” Guytingco said.
LSA sophomore Dalia Harris, La Casa project coordinator and another member of the Trotter on State planning committee, said she started her time at the University at the Trotter Center. Harris said she’s looking forward to forming new memories across communities of color at the new Trotter Center on State Street.
“Personally for me, Trotter is where I started,” Harris said. “For the Latinx community, we have our orientation program here … And I have so many memories of meeting so many different people in this space. And this new Trotter means so many new memories are going to be made. And I’m just so excited because not only will it be a space for our community, but it’s a space for all of our marginalized communities, not separately but together.”
Elizabeth James, BSU adviser and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies program manager, said the Trotter Center has been an integral part of her campus experience since she became involved in BSU in 1980. James voiced how meaningful of a space the Trotter Center has been for communities of color.
“It’s just such a beautiful thing to see all of us here together and to see that this is actually real,” James said. “I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve dreamed about being closer to campus because I knew how cold it was for you all to walk down here because I’d walked down too. I knew how much this place meant to you because you did make that trek. It was a strange kind of calling that brought us all here but we knew this was the place to be.”
Chuck Ransom, Multicultural Studies and American Culture librarian, is currently working on a project archiving the history of the Trotter Center. According to Ransom, the Trotter Center’s origins began with a group of Black female students in the 1960s who approached University Housing asking for an all-Black floor in the residential halls. Among other initiatives to help Black students facing marginalization at the University, students in the Black Action Movement spearheaded the 1971 opening of the Trotter House, a Black student cultural center named in honor of civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter, Ransom explained.
In 1981, after requests for their own cultural centers from several other minority groups, the University decided to expand Trotter into a student multicultural center.
LSA sophomore Ugochi Ndupu, peace officer of BSU and a member of the Trotter on State planning committee, recognized the efforts of BAM and Being Black at U-M, a movement started by BSU in 2013 to share experiences of Black students on campus. BBUM gained national traction, eventually releasing a list of demands. The demands included the creation of a Trotter Center closer to the center of campus.
Ndupu expressed the Trotter Centers on Washtenaw Avenue and State Street are possible due to the work of student activists in these movements. Ndupu said the new Trotter Center on State Street compels her to continue their work.
“It made me realize as a Black student here on campus, I have a purpose to keep that legacy of student activism going and also to make sure that their demands are getting carried out and appreciating the work that they’ve done,” Ndupu said. “That’s why new Trotter means so much to me.”
Guytingco echoed Ndupu’s sentiments, also acknowledging past student activists and expressing students of color will continue to take up the space they deserve on campus.
“It’s really emotional and impactful for me to know that so many students, so many people that have gone before us have fought for this space on campus,” Guytingco said. “And now for me to carry on their legacy through our work, where people of color and marginalized groups have a space on Central Campus, this is really empowering for me and I hope for so many others. We have a space, and we’re here, and we’re going to continue to take up space because we do.”