The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center (frequently referred to as the BCC) is a center that provides students at Vanderbilt with a space to engage in open discussions in regards to African and African American culture. This center was founded in 1984 and is dedicated to Bishop Joseph Johnson who was the first African American to be admitted to and graduate from Vanderbilt University. Needless to say, the BCC has a strong sense of history; however, it utilizes this history to tackle present day issues. The BCC hosts an array of events including events on racism, police brutality (both here and abroad). Most of these events can be characterized as panel discussions which are important because it shows the importance of everyone’s opinions and contributions and how central they are to the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center. Occasionally, the BCC is home to study sessions and art exhibits. Not only does the BCC provide a space for intellectual dialect, it also serves as a gathering place for students here at Vanderbilt which provides a great way to meet other students and often times makes the transition into college an easier one.
Upon arrival to the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, we made observations of students studying and chatting with their friends, took note of the lounge areas, visited the kitchen and computer lab, and admired the Dayo art collection on display. We conducted many informal interviews with students who were present at the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center to get an idea of the importance of this center and to see whether or not the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural center had any impact on their lives while at Vanderbilt. Not surprisingly, while each student had a different story, 2 out of the 3 students interviewed said that the BCC was their favorite place on campus because it provided them with a space for minorities like them to gather and discuss their sameness and differences whether it be in regards to social issues, scholarly debates, classes, or events taking place on campus . One of the most interesting responses we received from one of our questions was that many students who don’t identify as African American/Black believe that the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center is exclusively for African American students; however, that is not the case. When I asked why he (the student being interviewed) thought that this belief was so popular, this student responded by saying “maybe because we frequently refer to the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center simply as the BCC.” Interestingly enough, we discovered that many students on campus assumed that because people refer to the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center as the “BCC,” the center was only for black students. This brings up the importance of language; because so many believed that this center was simply the “Black Cultural Center,” they probably felt excluded and were discouraged from visiting the center or attending any of the events hosted by the center. However, the students who do utilize the center had nothing but positive comments to contribute.
According to Forbes, Vanderbilt University is a premier institution whose African American community makes up 8% of the entire student body population. It is no secret that this small number sparks major problems in the predominantly white community, problems that have been experienced so often that even blacks find it mundane and too typical. This marginalization issue comes in the form of a package, especially at an elite southern college like Vanderbilt where the larger, and more powerful, organizations may lack a minority voice.
When asked about how the Black Cultural Center confronts this discourse around marginalization and Black togetherness, Taylor McMahan, an active chair member of the Black Student Alliance and frequent BCC guest, says “the BCC does an exceptional job with bringing black students, from all lights and backgrounds, under the same roof. Students are able to mingle about tough classes, social struggles, and any other entertainments really. The BCC is a place where students have the ability to be themselves, escape the any and all outside stigmas, and seek growth alongside their like minded peers. It is supposed to be like their home away from home honestly.” McMahan’s answer highlights some of the major components discussed in class, but she essentially depicts it from a whole different perspective. When Blacks are displaced from whatever community they are accustomed to, be it predominantly black, extremely diverse, or still predominantly white, Vanderbilt’s southern atmosphere is bound to pierce their previous notions. Why is this? Because sometimes high school is not a microcosm of the real world. This often leads to identity deconstruction, and with the massive amount of social stigma floating around the Vanderbilt community, this could only make or break a black students’ own perception of their identity.
When paralleling this idea with our reading from, “Gender, sexuality, and the Lebanese diaspora,” it is easy to see how the different dynamics of stereotypes shape, in part, the way that individuals construct their own identity. “The Lebanese immigrant (experience) shows how ethnic differences and immigration status produce status produce distinct identities, and at the same time generate creative forms of belonging and global attachments (NSS 547).” Moreover, the Lebanese immigrants seem to gravitate more toward their culture and roots and this essentially works as a coping mechanism for the stress of being stigmatized.
While it may seem obscure to overlap the immigrant experience with the experience of blacks at PWIs (predominantly white institutions), the same principles and ideologies are important especially when considering the purpose of the BCC. The BCC is black students “home away from home,” as aforementioned, and draws these students back to their culture for social support. This is extremely important, especially at a place where one is outnumbered.
Overall, our experience at the BCC was one to remember. We even look forward to taking part in all the facility has to offer in the near future!
For more information about the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, please visit http://www.vanderbilt.edu/bcc/