Op-ed: More clarity is needed about future of Portlock

All around whispers rattle on about the future. I bear witness to empty space where once stood houses, victims of the expansion. Now, red banners marked “Lafayette College” cordone off the space like a crime scene. Looking at the history of Black cultural centers on campus, I now wonder if Portlock’s home is next to be transformed into another parking lot or a new dormitory.

I refuse to mourn Portlock, to believe that Lafayette with its imperial impulses might ever consider destroying the materiality of Black history on this campus. Where is the transparency from the institution about the future of historical Black spaces? Why do we still have no clarity even after conversations with administrators? Where is the open dialogue? Does the history of our presence, our struggle, on this campus not matter?

Yet this is not the first time that Black spaces have faced uncertainty at Lafayette.  In 1988, the Black Cultural Center was destroyed in order to build the Farinon Student Center. This came much to the dismay of Black students on campus. Joel Windsor ‘89, for example, when asked what he thought about the future of the B.C.C. remarked that “to the ABC students, the loss of the BCC is very hard to take.” A picture of the gaping hole lay bare in the space where black students had congregated for eighteen years. A few years later, an open house was hosted in February of 1990 for the new and current location, 101 McCartney Dr. The Center was later renovated and dedicated to Dean Portlock in 1999.  

Now, as uncertainty strikes again with the institution’s perilous desire for progress, a cultural landmark of our history has been rendered vulnerable.

Even as rumors have it that plans are being made to build a new house for us, are we supposed to believe that it will not be destroyed in decades to come? Who can guarantee that they will value our material history tomorrow? This is an opportunity for the college to demonstrate that they care about us and those who came before us. This is an opportunity to preserve, love and honor Portlock, even as we demand more spaces for students of color to gather and celebrate our cultures, such as in a letter of demands from marginalized students in 2016.

As I make chicken for dinner in the kitchen of Portlock, watching the oil simmer, my mind wanders off to another time where the rooms are loud with friends bickering and bantering between homework and too much junk food. I think of the ways this space is marked with our presence and those that came before us. We joke that the ancestors live and lived here.  We laugh at the thought of ourselves, twenty years older, visiting this space to remember where we laugh and cried and danced until our feet were sore.

Today, we are bold enough to imagine a tomorrow for this space.

By Jovanté Anderson ’19