In honor of Jeh Vincent Johnson, the ALANA Cultural Center celebrated new renovations. On Saturday, Nov. 19, Vassar rededicated the Center to Johnson’s accomplishments and contributions to the College.
It was long overdue for the African-American/Black, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Center to receive both more acknowledgement and physical upgrades, according to Programming Intern Alysa Chen ’23. “The rededication, to me, symbolizes that Vassar is taking steps towards paying more respect and attention to the students of color on campus,” she said. “Before the renovations and rededication, the ALANA Center was physically pushed far in the corner of campus behind Main Building and hardly noticeable, not only making it hard for students of color to identify it as a safe space, but also as a metaphor, the center’s presence was not acknowledged and celebrated by the wider campus community as much as it should have been.”
The Center offers opportunities for leadership development, intra-cultural and cross-cultural dialogues, lectures, big sister/big brother and alum mentoring programs, according to its website. Additionally, the Center serves as a gathering space for student organizations with similar goals in supporting students of color.
First-Year Experience (FYE) and the affinity resource centers, including the ALANA Center, are under the purview of Student Growth & Engagement (SGE). Wendy Maragh Taylor, Associate Dean of the College for SGE, is thrilled that the renovations and dedication event finally came together. She said, “The dedication has been a work in progress since last spring. I’m thrilled that students, alums, faculty and administrators, and, of course, Jeh Vincent Johnson’s family members, could be involved and present for the event.” She continued, “It is important to acknowledge the work of Jeh— as a professor here at Vassar, in general, and specifically, in the design of the Center. In fact, in 2016, when I was the Director of the Center, I had a plaque made and hung in the entrance to acknowledge that he designed the space.”
The ALANA Center is vital to student growth, according to Taylor. The College honored those sentiments and Johnson’s contributions by dedicating the Center to him, serving as the first building on campus named after an African American. “Our ALANA team—administrators and student leaders—creates an environment that nurtures students of color, cultivates an environment for thriving and engages the campus community in events, discussions and celebrations that are vital. To have that recognized and the architect of the building acknowledged, and have this first building on campus be officially named after the Black man who designed it is impactful on so many levels.”
ALANA Programming Intern Minkyo Han ’25 said he hopes the event will bring the focus back onto historically marginalized communities: “This event was very important because we not only got to celebrate the milestones of the hard work of students of color, but also demanded more action on creating a more diverse and welcoming space, starting with creating an Africana Studies Department.” Currently, Africana Studies is only a program at Vassar and offers a very limited number of courses, with mostly cross-listed professors.
Students like Chen are grateful for all the ALANA Center has provided for them during their time at Vassar. She said, “Finding safety and empowerment within the Center’s walls as a woman of color growing up in a diverse city was integral to me being able to succeed and thrive at Vassar, which is a completely different environment than what I was used to—and for Vassar to rededicate and appreciate the importance of a cultural center born out of decades of Black students’ activism is the first step to appreciating its own students of color.”
According to Taylor, “It was really important to the ALANA student leaders and me to honor him, this African American man, whose efforts created a space that allows so many students of color to retreat, to celebrate their heritage and be in community, and to engage the entire Vassar campus in that celebration and in critical dialogue.” For many at the ALANA Center and across campus, they hope the conversation for uplifting marginalized minorities is just beginning.