After years of requests to the University and a demand from the Black Student Union on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Trotter Multicultural Center will soon receive $300,000 from the University for renovations and a new center will be built in the future. Now, it just needs to be planned it out.
To that end, students converged at the current Trotter Center Thursday night to discuss plans for the new building and create teams to contribute to the planning process moving forward.
The Trotter Center, named after William Monroe Trotter, an early civil rights activist, first opened its doors in 1971. The original center was built as a result of a movement in which Black faculty, staff and students protested for Black students to have a space of their own.
However, the original structure burned down in 1972 and the center was subsequently relocated to its current location, a former fraternity house on Washtenaw Avenue.
The New Trotter is a student lead initiative working along side the Black Student Union to make good on the seventh BSU demand, asking for a new student space for the Trotter Center.
The three primary goals of the New Trotter is to prioritize renovations for the current building, find a location closer to campus for a new building in the next three to five years, and to find better funding for the center, Public Policy senior Fernando Coello said.
A team of administrators met with the New Trotter group and will continue to in the next coming weeks.
At the meeting, students formed groups and talked about what Trotter means to them and why the Multicultural Center is a critical part of the University.
Over 40 students brainstormed ideas for the new center at the end of the meeting. Among other ideas, room that could be rented out and create economic power in the community was suggested. A kitchen, a resource center with computers, printers and a place to study, creative places to paint or write, safe, private spaces to talk and places for guests, speakers or other students, were all brought up as well.
The Trotter House was renamed the Trotter Multicultural Center in 1981 to be more inclusive to students from many backgrounds, instead of only being a space for Black students. It later merged with MESA, a large organization on campus that seeks to educate students on issues of race and social justice, to serve an even broader campus audience.
According to LSA junior Rolly Abiola, a discussion leader at the meeting on Thursday, the building underwent a facility enhancement assessment between 1998 and 2004 to see if the building met fire codes, which it did not. The building was structurally unsafe and nothing was acted upon or even submitted to the University until 2005, Abiola said.
Only small changes — a new paint job and a new pillar on the third floor — were made, Abiola said.
“I’ve come here, I’ve napped here, I’ve cried here,” Abiola said. “I’ve been frustrated here. I’ve been fed here. This is my house. This is my room. This place has nurtured me when I didn’t think I deserved to be nurtured.”
It took 10 years for changes to be made to make the building wheelchair accessible. Today, only the basement and the first floor are accessible. According to Abiola, all other floors are still inaccessible to the physically impaired.
“We made it work and we are still making it work, to be quite frank, because this building is still not where it needs to be,” Abiola said.
Abiola said the University has neglected the Trotter Center numerous times in the past. She cited an incident on Aug. 25th, 2013 when an intoxicated student from one of the numerous fraternity houses located next to the Trotter Center illegally entered the center, dragging blood coming from a wound on his ankle across the entirety of the first and second floor.
Abiola said the police declared the incident an “open and shut case” once they located the student and left. They did not make sure anyone else was in the building or if the students were safe Abiola said.
After the incident, students and the resident staff had to scrub the blood off the ground, she said.
“There was a lack of response from the University and even weeks after the incident there were no crime alerts sent out,” Abiola said. “We are so disrespected on so many levels, on an institutional level. It needs to stop.”
The Trotter Center used to host overnight retreats for high school students. After the incident in 2013, the center was prohibited from doing so, Rackham student Angela Abiodun said.
“Not only is this a space for us as University students, but it is also a space that allows us to introduce our communities to this campus,” Abiodun said. “And simply the distance from campus now tells (prospective students) that we are not valued in this space.”
At the end of the meeting, students volunteered for different teams: the data team, the research team, the short term team, the long term team or members at large.
The short term team will meet weekly or biweekly with an administrative team to best determine how to improve the current building. The long term team will meet in the coming months and years to find a location for The New Trotter.
Correction appended: This article has been updated to include a more accurate description of MESA. A previous version of this article also misstated Angela Abiodun’s name.