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‘A Home Away From Home’

Center for Multicultural Affairs celebrates a half century

The CMA began as the Office of Black Affairs in 1972, which grew out of 13 demands made by a group of Black students during the Allen Building takeover on Feb. 13, 1969. The protest brought attention to the needs of Black students from Southern segregated schools who historically struggled to find space and a place on campus due to the lack of resources and support.

CMA functions as a place to serve those who have been historically marginalized within the landscape of a predominantly white institution, said Assistant Director Maij Vu Mai. The center helps to build community, connections and a sense of belonging “in such a way that creates a home away from home for them,” they said.

Just like the students whose needs change from year to year, the center also has undergone many iterations. The most recent came last summer during which CMA moved from its original location on the first floor of the Bryan Center to the third floor where it is co-located with the Women’s Center and Student Involvement and Leadership.

As the CMA prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, there has been much reflection on what it means to redefine a center 50 years later, through the theme, “We were there, and now we are here: Redefining our center.”

“Our theme started as a response to folks asking, ‘How do you feel about the physical move?’” said Assistant Director Alex Espaillat. “What appeared to be a matter-of-fact response from CMA Director Linda Capers is actually paying homage to the center’s past and looking ahead to the future.”

Having recently onboarded its newest team member, Associate Director Lauren Denton, CMA is also thinking about what it means to continue sharing its legacy with staff members to come.

“When you ask the question of what the future looks like, I think that I’m always going to say it’s not about what the future looks like, it’s more about what it can look like,” said Mai. “What are the infinite possibilities available to communities of color at Duke when it comes to determining what our futures look like?”

Added Capers: “If you are going to be aspirational, I would think centers like ours would operate very differently and would focus on what it means to cultivate people’s strengths versus always feeling that you are in a fight for survival.”

For Espaillat, the question becomes, “If these four walls came down tomorrow, does your community still exist? It should. The thing that will stand the test of time is not the tangible and physical things, but the investment and the relationships,” she said.

The anniversary celebration on March 21 takes place from 6-8 p.m. in Penn Pavilion. Several former directors and others who have been instrumental in the creation of the center will be present.

“The program is a love letter to the CMA,” said Mai. “It is a full-on art piece in an active form of storytelling, archiving and legacy building over the past 50 years. Come breathe with us, relax with us -- we are going to party.”