Transformative Voices

Note: this story was originally published on People & Places: Social Justice at the U.

When two student leaders approached their advisor about the creation of an affinity space at the University of Utah, all involved understood the impact and importance of this work. After several anti-Black incidents at the university, Black Student Union (BSU) students Alexis Baker and Barbara Kufiadan were anxious to expedite research and strategies on establishing such a space following initial discussions at an open forum in 2015. With their advisor and Black Faculty and Staff Association Member, Portia Anderson, the BSU representatives soon joined forces with Romeo Jackson and Vivian D’Andrade from the Black Graduate Student Association to write a proposal for a Black Cultural Center (BCC) at the University of Utah.

Now, two years after the opening of the BCC, the transformative voices and legacy of these five co-founders continue to resonate across our campus and community.

Portia Anderson

Director of administration and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, College of Architecture + Planning

Portia Anderson (she/her) is a first-generation college graduate who was born and raised in Chicago. She has been involved in equity and inclusion work for more than eight years in various capacities within higher education in areas such as residence life, student life, academic advising and diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI). At the center of her work, Portia is passionate about creating opportunities to enact justice, increase diversity and practice equity in order to foster inclusion. She believes in empowering the voices of students of color so they can contribute to sustainable institutional changes that positively impact their communities.

“If you are aware about the true histories of student activism, you would know that it is integral and often the impetus for shaping institutional change. Never give up, but more importantly think and act strategically in collaboration with community and stakeholders that know the value of your actions no matter how big or small because they (actions) matter. Action on retaining and graduating Black students is vital to center the experiences of Black people because when you do everyone benefits; that change to practice and policy effects change in a positive direction for all. However, this has to be a belief and commitment of everyone at our institutions beyond the staff in Black Cultural Centers.”

Alexis Baker

Graduate student, Black Student Union graduate advisor and Black Graduate Association vice president, Florida State University

Alexis Baker (she/her) was born and raised in Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah in 2019 with a B.S. in Health Promotion and Education and a minor in African American Studies. She has had a passion for advocating for Black students and keeps activism and social justice at the forefront of everything that she does. Her goal is to leave every university she’s a part of a little better than when she arrived. Currently, Alexis is attending graduate school at Florida State University where she will be receiving an M.S. in Higher Education in Spring 2020.

“Speaking at the [BCC Open House] was one of the most surreal moments of my life because all of the work I put in during my time at the university was right there, and I had something physical to show for it, which isn’t always the case when doing social justice work. I have seen a trend across universities where institutions are more focused on Multiculturalism, which is great, however, I do think there is power in having spaces offered specifically for historically marginalized identities. I would love for institutions across the country to see the benefit of these centers for their students and give these centers adequate resources for success.” 

Vivian D’Andrade

Assistant director of student life, City University of New York

After eight years of working in non-profits, the U.S. Army Reserves and higher education, Vivian D’Andrade (she/her) has gained breadth and depth in inclusive and operational excellence. She has designed global e-learning professional training courses on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and delivered 60+ data-driven and theory-informed workshops in-person and via virtual platforms. Vivian received her M.Ed. in Educational Leadership and Policy in 2018 from the University of Utah where her service and commitment to equitable futures touched multiple organizations across the campus. Her work continues to engage DEI, student advocacy and college governance.

“I knew from the moment Alexis Baker shared [Barbara’s and her] vision for the Black Cultural Center with me that this endeavor would stretch me from the past to the future, from upper to lower campus, and in strategic and emergent ways. The Black Cultural Center is the product of our resilience and resistance, and I hope the Black Cultural Center continues to be a shelter and respite for the resilient and a platform for resistance.”

Romeo Jackson

Assistant director of Social Justice at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Ph.D. student at Colorado State University

Hailing from the southside of Chicago and the grandchild of Gracie Lee Fowler, Romeo Jackson (they/them) is a first-generation, queer, Black, non-binary femme dedicated to intersectional justice and cross-movement building. Their research, writing and practice explore Race/ism, anti-Blackness, and settler colonialism within a higher education context with an emphasis on the experiences of queer and trans students of color. Romeo is committed to uplifting and empowering queer and trans people of color through a Black queer feminist lens and thanks Audre Lorde for keeping them grounded as a whole person in a world committed to tokenizing their identities for agendas not aligned with their politics.

“My hope is that the BCC becomes a space of intersectional justice. The Center was founded by Black women and Black queer/trans people, and I hope that through that history and remembering of its founders that the work of Black feminist, Black-queer-trans activism is central. Protect your energy, magic and intellectual labor fiercely. It is not actually your responsibility to transform institutions of higher education, but as a student activist myself, I understand the compelling nature to transform and change.”

Barbara Kufiadan

Graduate student, University of Texas in Austin

Barbara Kufiadan (she/her) is particularly passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and its practice in both the public and private sectors. She has had experience evaluating these practices through professional experiences, field research and personal student advocacy at her previous institution—the University of Utah. Ultimately, she intends to pursue a career where she can utilize her passion for DEI to foster more opportunities, healthy work and life experiences, and bring awareness to the injustices and struggles of marginalized communities.

“The planning of the BCC has always been bigger than myself. It was created with current and future students, faculty, and staff, community members and alumni in mind. During the process, we consistently talked about the people that paved the way before us, folx that were helping us throughout the process and the internal factors that lead to a successful then-plan-now-center. I believe that BCC’s across the Pac-12 should come together to connect students at their respective institutions and take an active interest in assessing racial climate and sharing that information with each other. I would like to see the BCC have more programming for staff and faculty on campus, involve students in leadership opportunities and involve more alumni with the works of the center.”

In celebration of Black History Month and the second anniversary of the Black Cultural Center, the BCC’s founders will be honored at the 2021 Black Faculty and Staff Awards for their community leadership and commitment towards establishing a center that seeks to holistically enrich, support and advocate for faculty, staff and students through Black-centered research and culturally-affirming educational initiatives. Hear from them and celebrate this year’s awardees on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. MST.

RSVP here.