Makuu: The Black Cultural Center is a nexus of academic, professional and personal growth for University of Pennsylvania students interested in Black culture and the African Diaspora. Through advising, leadership development, network facilitation, and cultural programming, we expand student access to the University’s resources, enhancing our campus and global communities.
Black student presence at the University of Pennsylvania dates back to 1879 when three students – William Adger, Nathan Mossell, and James Brister – enrolled. Over nearly the next century, small numbers of Black students came to Penn and encountered even fewer Black faculty and administrators. In the 1960s, things began to change.
Prompted by national cries for equality and access, as well local tensions over Penn’s expansion into largely Black neighborhoods, Penn responded by drastically increasing the number of Black students enrolled. Other colleges and universities around the country followed a similar pattern. As Black students began to organize, they actively sought to improve their campus experiences, which were oftentimes hostile and isolating. Students proposed Black Studies programs and Black Cultural Centers, and formed Black Student Unions, arts groups, and community-based initiatives.
At Penn, among the earliest campus-based Black cultural efforts were the Afro-American Studies Program (now the Department of Africana Studies) and W.E.B. Du Bois College House. These institutions nurtured Black students and student interests, and continue this critical work today. In 2000, the Vice Provost for University Life established another resource center for Penn students interested in Black culture. Founded to support Umoja, an umbrella group of Black student organizations, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center provided a platform for the academic, cultural, and social development of students. By 2001, in concert with advocacy and community-building work happening in other cultural spaces, VPUL established the ARCH – Arts, Research, and Culture House – in the heart of campus, to serve as a home for Makuu, La Casa Latina, PAACH (Pan-Asian American Community House) along with CURF (Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships). The name Makao Makuu, Kiswahili for “home” or “headquarters,” was suggested by William James Anderson III (SEAS ’02) during a naming contest, and ultimately selected as the winner.
Dr. Karlene Burrell-McRae served as Makuu’s first director, leading the center through its first decade. Dr. Brian Peterson became the second director in 2011.