SMC celebrates a ‘monumental’ 50th anniversary


Students recieve samples of different foods at the Cultural Celebration Cook-off in the Student Center Ballroom Balcony on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018.  

Nyla Henderson

The Student Multicultural Center (SMC) originated in the Human Resources department as the Office of Minority Affairs. What once started as a small division of student affairs now celebrates half a century of existence.

In 1968, black students who attended Kent State walked off campus in protest of unfair academic treatment.

“In their demands to come back was the creation of a Black Studies program, creation of a Black Cultural Center and the hiring of more black faculty and staff,” said Mwatabu Okantah, an associate professor of Pan-African Studies.

Their demands were heard and what was intended to be the new Student Center became Oscar Ritchie Hall, which houses the department of Pan-African Studies; the hall is also named after Kent State’s first black professor.

“Dr. Ed Crosby, who graduated from Kent State University, came back here and was hired in 1969 to start this program, which was then called the Institute for African-American Affairs,” Okantah said.

Over the years, the name of the department had many changes, from the Institute for African-American Culture to the Office of Minority Affairs, and finally, the Student Multicultural Center.

Throughout the years, its goal remained the same: supporting students from marginalized backgrounds.

“The Office of Minority Affairs started off focusing on the needs of our African-American students,” said Talea Drummer-Ferrell, the SMC director. “Then over the 50 years, we have grown into looking at our African-American, Latino-Hispanic, Native and multiracial (students), but then also educating the overall community.”

The department of Pan-African Studies and the SMC have similar ways in which they connect with their communities.

“We introduced the whole African village concept to what you now hear in the SMC,” Okantah said.

The African village concept comes from communalistic rituals that originate within the traditional African worldview. 

This week, the SMC plans to celebrate its achievement by hosting cultural events.

“Now, we’re not as much of an academic space, but we really do focus on the cultural affirmations piece,” Drummer-Ferrell said.

Some of those events have included a cook-off, a drum circle and a SMC trivia night.

One of the main focuses of the SMC is connecting the rest of the Kent community to different cultures. Over the past 50 years, this connection has grown immensely.

“One of the things I hope to see over the next 50 years would be the SMC creating a bigger village,” said Sarita Kande, a sophomore visual communication design major.

Although the 50th anniversary extravaganza is only a week long, the SMC plans to incorporate more celebratory events throughout the year.

“It’s so monumental, we can’t just celebrate it for a week,” said Ashley Williams, the SMC assistant director. “We want to continue to celebrate it throughout the academic year.”

Nyla Henderson is the Diversity Reporter. Contact her at [email protected]