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Reviewing B/AACC’s history as source of strength for students, community

The+entrance+to+the+Colorado+State+University+Black%2FAfrican+American+Cultural+Center+office+is+located+on+the+third+floor+of+the+Lory+Student+Center+Nov.+18%2C+2019.
The entrance to the Colorado State University Black/African American Cultural Center office is located on the third floor of the Lory Student Center Nov. 18, 2019.

In unison with the Civil Rights Movement, Black students at Colorado State University organized Project Generating Opportunities in 1968, which evolved into today’s Black/African American Cultural Center.

Project GO was founded after Black and Hispanic students fought for inclusive class courses, services and resources. The approximate total of 40 Black students achieved their requests. Among those students was Vivian Kerr, who later became the first director of Project GO.

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Kerr installed influential programs, including an annual fall retreat for new students, the center’s newsletter The GRIOT and a paraprofessional support program that is now known as the Black Educational Support Team.

Current CSU Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes took a similar path, volunteering for the center during her graduate studies and accepting the offer to be director in 1985.

“My goal was to have a place where they could go and at least see somebody that looked like themselves because you could be on campus, sometimes for days, and not see another person of color or another Black person,” Hughes said.

“You can thrive … no matter what you come with, no matter what experiences you have. As long as you are still alive, you still have breath in your body, you can go thrive at this institution. So every time students walk into this office, that’s the energy that they walk into. That’s what we want them to know and truly believe for themselves.” -Duan Ruff, B/AACC director

When Hughes began her tenure, Black students and student-athletes were living separate lives and didn’t interact with each other very much on campus, leading to her immediate action in building community. The African American Success Project Seminars were developed in the early 1990s for all Black students to work together and practice peer mentoring, public speaking, writing and group discussions. The classes later formed first-year seminars.

“If all I’m doing is just helping the students to feel comfortable in their environment but I’m not doing anything to change the environment, that’s not sustainable,” Hughes said. “So I needed to do both.”

Partnerships with athletics and other CSU departments were another core goal for Hughes in order to preserve student-athlete retention. She also advocated for students’ success by leaving her door open for conversation on issues they faced on campus.

“First off, with academics, part of what happens is — especially if you’re first-generation or if you’re in a large school — you find yourself what we call racialized,” said Ray Black, an associate professor of ethnic studies at CSU who holds office hours at B/AACC for students. “Stereotypes and misconceptions and discrimination and microaggressions (…) go on, and then you look for places of affinity.”

In 1997, B/AACC moved to its present location in the Lory Student Center from 205 Aylesworth Hall.

Former Director Jennifer Williams Molock began her tenure in 1998. She enhanced the former peer mentoring program to make B.E.S.T., recreated the Rites of Passage program and added new awards to recognize outstanding students through the annual awards program. Molock was also attentive to reuniting alumni and hosted events in partnership with the CSU Alumni Association.

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Current Director Duan Ruff has followed the lead of previous directors since 2021 with the same value of supporting Black students through the college journey. Only a small number of programs have been discontinued through B/AACC, some of which have transferred to related departments on campus.

“The biggest thing I want to do is make sure that whatever we’re doing in here is honoring the evolution of students, society (and) technology to where we’re still centering Blackness, still centering the Black culture and community,” Ruff said.

The mural of a baobab tree featured outside of the center has served as a symbol of their mission: baobab trees thrive in challenging climates and provide life to the ecosystems they grow in.

“You can thrive … no matter what you come with, no matter what experiences you have,” Ruff said. “As long as you are still alive, you still have breath in your body, you can go thrive at this institution. So every time students walk into this office, that’s the energy that they walk into. That’s what we want them to know and truly believe for themselves.”

Reach Cadence Cardona at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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