A new beginning

Regina Garcia Cano

Pan-African community starts the new semester in

As classes begin all throughout campus and in the new Pan- African Studies building, Oscar Ritchie Hall, students take advantage of the new Jazzman’s Cafe location grabbing a quick bite to eat and a drink. Shaye A. Painter | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Mwatabu S. Okantah, an assistant professor of Pan-African studies, first entered Oscar Ritchie Hall in 1972 as a student during his third year at Kent State.

More than three decades later, Okantah witnessed Oscar Ritchie Hall transform from a non-air-conditioned building to a state-of-the-art facility.

“To see it like this is just stunning,” Okantah said. “I can literally say to students I was here when this was a dream, and many considered it a pipe dream; so to come back to an essentially brand new building, I was just speechless.”

Yesterday, Oscar Ritchie Hall re-opened its doors after a year of major renovations.

Oscar Ritchie Timeline/OAPSE


&bull 1972 The African-American Studies program and the black cultural center moved to the old Student Union building (now Oscar Ritchie Hall) when the current Student Center opens. The program and center are now called the Institute for African-American and Pan-African culture.

&bull 1977 The old Student Union is dedicated as Oscar Ritchie Hall, after the first black professor at Kent State and at a public Ohio university. The department is located on the ground floor.

&bull 1985 Pan-African studies now claims the entire building.

&bull 2004 Black United Students holds a protest in Risman Plaza in order to get renovations for Oscar Ritchie Hall. Over the summer, $200,000 in repairs to the building are completed.

&bull 2007-2008 Oscar Ritchie is slated for a major overhaul, with $10 million in renovations. Pan-African Studies department moves to the Lincoln Building during the renovations. Currently, the building is being painted and floored. The renovation will be complete in July 2008.

&bull Aug. 2008 The Department of Pan-African Studies returns to Oscar Ritchie Hall.

“This is the crown jewel of campus,” Okantah said. “It was frustrating to wait, but it’s well worth it. Having the facility will make our job much easier.”

Named after the first black professor at Kent State, Oscar Ritchie, the building also houses the African Community Theater and the Center of Pan-African Culture.

“I believe everyone is looking forward to a new year, a good year,” Dr. Francis Dorsey, interim chair for the Department of Pan-African Studies said. “Everyone appreciates the newly renovated space.”

According to project manager Beth Ruffing, between 80 to 90 percent of the building was renovated. The African Community Theater underwent minor renovations.

“What they did to the building is extraordinary,” Okantah said. “I was disoriented when I came back into the building.”

Moody Nolan, a Columbus-based architecture firm, was in charge of the design. Ruffing said capital funds from the state were allocated for the project. Ten million dollars was invested.

“I think the best part of these renovations is watching the expression and the emotion on students’ faces; present students and past students,” Traci Easley Williams, director of the Center of Pan-African Culture, said. “(They) look at this building and realize where we were and how far we have come.”

Williams said Oscar Ritchie Hall is not only a classroom building but is also a cultural center that has historically served not only students, but also the community within a 50 mile radius.

“It is definitely a home away from home, because as a minority student at Kent State you don’t see too many faces like yours,” BUS president Ashley Tolliversaid. “This is a place where we can come and we can commune in a fellowship together and see more similar faces.”

Oscar Ritchie houses a new suite with offices from various organizations such as BUS, KSU-NAACP and Black Greek Council.

“We like to say that when you are a minority, you come and it is a big bowl of vanilla ice cream and we’re just sprinkles in that bowl of ice cream,” Tolliver said. “One thing that we like about the building is (that) it keeps us together, it keeps the unity strong between BUS as well as other minority students.”

Ruffing said the interior designer selected the colors of the building on tshe basis of the cultural background of Africa.

The artwork saved from Oscar Ritchie before renovations is currently being stored with a conservation company and will undergo restoration.

Contact minority affairs reporter Regina Garcia Cano at [email protected].