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IUPUI hopes to repay debt to community

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On June 19, a group of IUPUI students, led by representatives of the Black Student Union (BSU), met on campus to voice their frustrations and their demands of the university. 

The students had several issues. Chief among them: The construction of IUPUI in 1969 destroyed the surrounding Black community, which university officials failed to acknowledge for years. When the university did acknowledge the harm it caused, it did little to rectify the situation. The students also complained about a lack of support for Black students. 

Nearly five months later, IUPUI hopes to fix the damage created over 50 years ago with a scholarship for descendants of families displaced when the university was built and a new center for Africana Studies. 

The Center for Africana Studies and Culture will be housed in the Madam Walker Legacy Center on Indiana Avenue, a historically Black area impacted by IUPUI’s construction. According to Khalilah Shabazz, IUPUI’s assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, equity and inclusion, the center will strengthen the school’s partnership with the city and increase opportunities for scholarship and research. 

“I know our Africana Studies department is another home away from home for many of our students,” Shabazz, who is also a professor of Africana Studies, said. “With the center, there will be more intentional focus on research and history of African American life in Indianapolis and curriculum expansion and will serve as another place for our Black students who are seeking out opportunities about their own cultural backgrounds and heritages.”

Leslie Etienne is the first executive director of the Center for Africana Studies and Culture and sees it as an opportunity to expand curriculum and help bridge the gap between the school and the surrounding community. 

“The center gives us somewhere to launch some more community-engaged cultural programming,” Etienne said. “It gives us more opportunity for scholarship and research and also to help our students engage with the material.”

IUPUI Chancellor Nasser Paydar announced the center, along with the Through Their Eyes scholarship, during a Central Indiana Community Foundation event focused on dismantling systemic racism in education.

“The Center for Africana Studies and Culture at IUPUI is a reflection of our campus values and priorities,” Paydar said. “IUPUI is proud to be part of the Indianapolis community and to be expanding this important work at a crucial time in our city’s history.”

The Through Their Eyes scholarship, named for a 2006 BSU initiative to promote inclusion on IUPUI’s campus is for undergraduate students who can prove they are descendants of individuals displaced by IUPUI and are working toward their first degree. 

To apply for the scholarship, which is up to $15,000 per year, students need to be able to show familial linkage, either through documentation or photographs.

Shabazz said this is just the beginning of IUPUI’s dedication to changing the culture on campus.

“IUPUI has an abundance of anti-racist initiatives and action items, including an action committee that was formed last summer addressing systemic racism and how we as a campus can address it,” Shabazz said.

The action committee, which included Sha-Nel Henderson, president of the BSU, as well as other students, presented ideas to IUPUI officials. 

The cultural center and scholarship meet some of the demands the action committee presented.

“As an alumni of IUPUI, I’m really excited about this,” Shabazz said. “It’s a tough time in our country, and it’s hard work, but I’m excited for the chance to help change and shift our campus and the Indianapolis community.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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