A group of around three dozen Yale affiliates travelled to Washington, D.C. in late February to tour the Smithsonian’s new African-American history museum, where they met with curators as well as a former U.S. ambassador.
The trip was sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center, working with a newly increased budget that has funded the continued refurbishment of the Af-Am House on Park Street over the past year, as well as an enhanced slate of events and programs including the trip to Washington. The Af-Am House’s new initiatives, as well as numerous other programming additions across Yale’s three other cultural centers, mark a step forward for Yale after years of controversy about the condition of the cultural centers leading up to the racially charged protests that swept campus in the fall of 2015.
In response to pressure from student-activists, University President Peter Salovey announced plans to double the budgets of Yale’s four cultural centers in November 2015 as part of a series of initiatives called “Toward a Better Yale.” Still, Yale has not technically doubled each cultural center’s budget, according to Assistant Dean for Student Engagement Burgwell Howard.
Instead, at the beginning of the academic year, the University doubled the overall pool of resources dedicated to all four cultural centers and then allocated funds to each center individually based on size and need. In addition to a “common base budget increase,” each center received an additional “proportional allocation” based upon the number of students they serve within the University community, Howard said.
“Our attempt has been to be both equitable and proportional in our fund allocation to the centers, while attempting to support the ever-changing needs and priorities of the Yale community,” he added.
Howard declined to share the size of the budget for each Yale center, citing the University’s policy against revealing specific budgetary information. But he emphasized that the budget increases, which were implemented at the beginning of the 2016–17 academic year, have allowed the Af-Am House, La Casa Cultural, the Asian American Cultural Center and the Native American Cultural Center to offer new event programming and travel opportunities for students across the University.
“Without the budget increase, the House would not have been able to offer these transformative experiences, programs, resources or services to our constituency,” said Risë Nelson, the director of the Af-Am House. “We are absolutely thrilled and deeply appreciative that the University generously responded to the expressed needs of the House’s students and collaborators.”
The debate surrounding Yale’s support for the cultural centers has ebbed and flowed for years. In an interview earlier this week, Salovey said he had hoped to engineer a budget increase when he was serving as dean of Yale College in the early 2000s.
“Given the increase in students making use of them, the conversation about the need to increase their budget actually began then and then got interrupted by the recession a few years later,” Salovey said. “It was something I felt needed to be done since I was dean.”
But the tide finally began to turn in 2015, when administrators vowed to make much-needed improvements to the cultural centers after a review by outside consultants found that they lacked institutional support from the University.
In the summer of 2015, the University began repairing the physical buildings, installing a handicap ramp in the AACC and removing asbestos from inside the walls of the AACC and La Casa. The AACC also received a new paint job, in addition to flooring and lighting improvements.
According to Howard, the Af-Am House has undergone its own repairs this year and now has new furniture and flooring. At the beginning of the academic year, Yale hired assistant directors for all four centers, positions that did not exist before the budget increase.
NACC Director Kelly Fayard said the funding has allowed the NACC to finance a series of new programs, including a cultural exchange trip to Hawaii scheduled to take place over spring break.
“The increase that we got wasn’t as great as some of the other cultural centers; we’re not going to have anything that’s super over the top,” Fayard said. “We were really working with not enough resources in the past, and so this has allowed us to do the sorts of things that we want to do. We’re at a good place.”
Nelson said the increased budget has allowed the Af-Am House to launch a new History Keepers Program in which 15 students are currently conducting research into the center’s history ahead of its 50th anniversary in 2019.
Meanwhile, La Casa has used the new funding to update its library, among other initiatives, according to Eileen Galvez, the center’s director.
At the AACC, Yale is currently in the process of searching for a new director, and Assistant Director Raymond Firmalino said the center will be able to offer enhanced programming once that search is complete.
Derek Mubiru ’19, a co-head coordinator at the AACC, said he traveled to New York with the AACC last October to tour the Museum of Chinese in America, which he described as “a really good experience.”
“We’re in a very good place right now, and there is always room for improvement,” Mubiru said. “But I think that as far as funding goes there aren’t any large troubles looming in the future.”