Students are scattered all over the Black Cultural Center at Indiana University-Bloomington. They are there to protest the university’s plan to shut down the center. As the night approaches, students decide to sleep in the space, relentless in their efforts to reclaim the BCC. Karla Foster is one of many undergraduate students in the room participating in the protest.
The BCC was so much more than just a cultural center to Foster. It served as a place where her sorority hosted events, and where black students could come and feel accepted at a predominantly white institution.
This is where Foster’s passion for cultural centers began. “It was sparked in undergrad because we were very active with our BCC,” said Foster. “It was just like everything happened in the BCC at my undergrad.”
This passion transcended into the position she holds now as the Program Coordinator of the Black Cultural Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Immediately after completing her master’s program at Indiana State University, Foster started at UW-Madison as the African American Academic Student Services Coordinator in 2012. This position called for her to serve as an advisor and a program coordinator for the African American student population, kick-starting her relationship with the black student population on campus.
“When I got to campus here at UW-Madison, I was like alright where’s the Black History Month planning committee? Where’s the MLK Day celebration? And none of that was happening here so myself and my intern tried to create that lane we wanted to see that nobody was already in,” said Foster.
“I like to consider myself a servant leader, and I’m always engaged with my students about what they want. What do you want in the BCC? How do you want the BCC to reflect you?“
Adding responsibilities to her plate, Foster and her undergraduate intern took the initiative to start the first campus-wide celebration of Black History Month.
In November 2016, Foster accepted the position as the interim Program Coordinator of the Multicultural Student Center, where she laid the foundation for UW-Madison’s second Black Cultural Center. Foster coordinated the first year of programming for the center, and contributed input on the interior design of the space.
Later, the university offered Foster the position of Program Coordinator of the BCC. She hesitated to accept the position at first. According to Foster, she was looking forward to having more people dedicated to serving the black student population on campus.
“I’m tired of being the only black person on campus that’s like doing large scale programming for black students and I would love to have somebody else on campus that I can do it with,” disclosed Foster.
However, she ultimately decided that she needed to finish the work she started with the BCC.
Foster learns from the students she sees every day in the center. She constantly seeks student feedback to continue developing the space for them.
After almost 1-year in the space, Foster sees plenty of room for improvement. She continues to weave the center into the institutional fabric of the university, hoping it will ensure that the BCC remains open to future generations.