Borzello Hall, along with housing our Africana Studies department, also hosts a nationally celebrated ethnic organization — the Association for Black Culture Centers (ABCC) — and a majority of campus is unaware of its existence. A deeply disturbing situation has developed when an organization headquartered at Knox is more celebrated elsewhere than it is on our own campus. Even more disturbing is that a deliberate disregard and silencing by the administration is at least partially to blame. ABCC’s budget was stripped when the organization and Dr. Hord temporarily departed to NIU between 2015 and 2017. Knox’s administration never attempted to notify the organization of this loss of funds after Dr. Hord’s return to campus, leaving him to hunt for answers. Only after recent probing into the administration by students — including Sam Lisec, a TKS reporter — and my own requests for information to the dean of the college, did Teresa Amott finally reinstate the operating budget for the organization. However, throwing money at the problem does little to address the lack of respect shown by the administration toward this valuable asset to Knox.
ABCC was founded by Knox’s Chair of Africana Studies, Dr. Fred Hord, in 1988 in order to promote networking among cultural centers and institutions that championed minority groups. Now Dr. Hord, well-known and admired among ethnic cultural centers across the U.S., spends significant time and energy maintaining the organization while receiving no salary for his work. Assisted by fellow faculty member Terry Duffy, Dr. Hord and the ABCC host national and regional conferences, most recently at Rutgers University in 2018. The guest list included the acclaimed writer and influential activist Kevin Powell and author/filmmaker Susan Robeson. Domanique Rahman, a member of ABLE and a Knox senior, attended the conference and stated that the experience provided “great insight on other black cultural centers and even ideas ABLE could pursue,” and that the “the many insights contributes to my senior research.” However, there came a stark realization that Knox’s administration and the student body was doing little to support the organization on campus. He expressed from this frustration that the “experience at the conference made me question why our center is ran the way it is. Is it a lack of funding? A lack of black students, or their interest? Or do people simply just not care.”
Several other ABLE members were also in attendance, but little recognition or publicity was given to the conference by the school. Digging deeper, a search of Knox College’s news archives surfaced only one full article on ABCC, discussing its temporary departure to NIU in 2015. Despite ABCC offering several resources to Knox students — including genealogical programs, a vast open library of reading material in Borzello, past collaboration with ABLE and financial assistance and connections available through ABCC to bring speakers to campus — the administration seems to have kept the organization in the dark. We ask the Knox administration, where has the press been? Where is the celebration of this cultural institution on our website, news, or in our admissions/promotional materials?
I have been an employee of ABCC for over two years and have stayed silent to the types of mistreatment the administration has put on ABCC until now. For an organization that counts over 200 ethnic-specific or multicultural centers as members or affiliates in its network (including those at Howard, Harvard and Princeton), Knox decided to reward its success with silence following the loss of its operating budget. What becomes suspicious is that Dr. Hord did not leave the college in any permanent fashion during the time the budget was stripped and did not plan on leaving for good, but instead took a leave of absence. Even Laura Behling, former vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at the time of ABCC’s move to NIU stated, “we look forward to supporting and working with the association in its future endeavors,” prior to ABCC’s official departure, yet must have had a role in removing the organization’s funds during Dr. Hord’s leave of absence. Behling even went on to say in a Knox news article from March 2, 2015 that “We look forward to welcoming them back to campus in the future,” and still went about stripping funding without the organization’s knowledge.
Following recent probing into the ABCC budget situation, Teresa Amott informed TKS reporter Sam Lisec that the administration, after Dr. Hord’s planned 2020 retirement, would not continue the organization and would be using any ABCC money to help pay the salary of a full-time professor who will most likely be working for the Africana Studies department. This response is notably vague and non-committal. There is no assurance that this professor will be from any diverse background to fill the gap left by another black faculty member leaving Knox. There is no assurance that the administration will take any path to carry on the vision that Dr. Hord has built on this campus.
We, the Knox College Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), challenge Teresa Amott to remember her former words and values. Amott is a published radical, socialist thinker (See: The Socialist Review, 1988, 1984 & Socialist Politics 1985) and champion of the economic plight of American Indians, Latinx, African Americans and Asian Americans in her book Race, Gender, and Work (1991). Was it not a slap in the face — not only to ABCC as an organization but to Knox as a student body — to hand Dr. Fred Hord the 2018 Faculty Achievement award while letting his “distinguished” work as a faculty member wither away?
Perhaps our president’s interests have shifted too far towards whale skeletons.
We also address questions to our Office of Admissions. Though Knox’s administration is proud to tout that Knox is of the top 50 most diverse colleges in the United States, what does it say when Knox is silent with regard to the ethnic and cultural institutions that it already has in place? Why is the majority of the student body left ignorant of ABCC’s existence? Why do tours or orientation groups never stop by ABCC’s headquarters in Borzello, despite taking prospective students almost everywhere else on campus? Knox students need answers regarding the future of ABCC and why decisions have been made over and over again to uproot an organization that has stayed incredibly loyal to our institution.
on behalf of the YDSA Chapter at Knox College
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this letter quoted Rahman as an executive member of ABLE. This portion was edited to say that Rahman is a general member of the organization.