The Afro-American Cultural Center, founded by a group of students in the 1960s, is celebrating the ideals of its founders today.
In a formal ceremony, the Af-Am House will rededicate itself to the values of its student founders in an evening that will include alumni presentations, recognition of donor and contractor contributions to the renovated building, a tour and student performances.
The Af-Am House will be celebrating the approximately 38 and a half years the organization has contributed to Yale’s campus.
Af-Am House Director Pamela George said the event was partially prompted by extensive renovations to the Af-Am House finished in February 2005. George said the Af-Am House has always pursued the values of vision, leadership, respect and the “willingness to stand up and support others, the willingness to produce justice wherever we find injustice.”
The ceremony will be a reaffirmation of the Af-Am House’s commitment to these values, she said.
“It is not just a building that was envisioned when the founders demanded it,” George said. “It was really more of a state of being where people feel a sense of being a part of something.”
The Af-Am House was approved by the administration in 1968, opened in 1969 and was briefly located on Chapel Street for less than a year before moving to its current location at 211 Park St., George said.
Students originally formed the group in 1964 and decided to establish a center on campus in order to combat feelings of isolation at a time when Yale’s black student population stood at at 14.
Students began their work by holding an annual social event called “Spook Weekend” that invited hundreds of black students from other nearby colleges to campus. The same students also pushed for the founding of an African American Studies department at Yale.
While the administration did not initiate the cultural center, University officials worked closely with the student founders who began the project, George said.
“I am sure there was resistance,” George said. “But there was also support.”
Black Student Alliance at Yale co-President Shawn Hickman ’09 said he plans to attend the rededication in order to learn more about how the cultural center has changed over time and to meet and network with alumni.
Hickman said the Af-Am House has been a place to foster dialogue about tenuous issues such as racism among black communities and the greater Yale community.
Terrell Sledge ’08, a member of the Black Church at Yale, Gamma Phi Delta Christian fraternity and the Af-Am House staff, said the house is not solely for black students. He said it provides students with space for a variety of activities, including functions.
Sledge said he disagrees with some students who see the Af-Am House as a form of self-segregation. The cultural house provides students with an outlet for experiencing a culture that is not their own, while also providing certain students with a home-like setting, Sledge said.
“A student at any particular institution shouldn’t … have to sacrifice what is familiar to you and what you grew up to appreciate,” he said.
Christopher Shirley ’10 said he thinks cultural houses do lead to self-segregation because they create a space for a cultural minority that “is over represented than the wider community might represent them.” But Shirley also said he does not find their presence to be problematic, because the cultural houses create a safe space in which those individuals can express themselves.
“Having a high inclusivity of inviting and being welcome to other cultures to be a part of that house is good, but I also think the ultimate goal of a cultural house is to be a safe space for that culture,” Shirley said. “And so if that means there are events focused around certain aspects of their culture that might be isolating to other people of other cultures, that is OK, and that is to be expected.”
George said the Af-Am House has worked together with other student groups, cultural houses and residential colleges to promote interactions among a variety of students.
The Af-Am House is home to more than 30 organizations.