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April 2014  

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Paul Robeson Cultural Center Boasts Proud Tradition

Paul Robeson Cultural Center Photo by John Patishnock

Just like the building in which it’s located, the Paul Robeson Cultural Center boasts a long, proud tradition.

What came to be known as the Paul Robeson Cultural Center originally was created in 1971 inside the Temporary Union Building (TUB), which was home to the Black Cultural Center and Educational Opportunity programs. The TUB opened in 1948 after it was transported, in pieces, from Lebanon, Pa., where it was a former U.S. Army USO Club facility.

A few years later, the Black Cultural Center organization was named for Paul Robeson, a famous singer, actor, scholar-athlete and human and civil rights activist who sang at Schwab Auditorium in 1940. Robeson impressed mightily, as the audience implored him to sing nine encores.

Photo of TUBThen in 1984, the TUB was renovated and renamed the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, which sits inside the HUB-Robeson Center, the on-campus student union building that’s undergoing major renovations.

The Cultural Center has since grown in stature and size. In 1995, about 24,000 participants attended 561 events that the Paul Robeson Cultural Center sponsored, and two years later, 19,000 square feet were added. In April 2000, the Hetzel-Union Building (HUB) and Paul Robeson Cultural Center officially merged and became the HUB-Robeson Center.

About 2,000 students visit the space every year, said Carlos Wiley, director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center, which also includes Heritage Hall and the Robeson Gallery.

“It allows students the opportunity, on a daily basis, to speak and interact with people of diverse backgrounds and understand the world from a different perspective,” Wiley said.

The Cultural Center participates every year in the new-student orientation, Wiley said, which informs the students of the center and its programs. He said he doesn’t believe most first-year students understand that the Cultural Center is a place for them to interact.

Display of Filipino items Photo by John Patishnock

This past semester, the Cultural Center hosted guest speakers, open forums and film screenings meant to broaden students’ perspectives.

Wiley said the center doesn’t widely tout its programs, and that the best way to advertise and draw students in is to have students hear from their peers about the importance of the Cultural Center.

There’s room for everyone, Wiley explained.

“The Paul Robeson Cultural Center has evolved from a space which was created for black students at Penn State to a space for all students at Penn State to learn from one another,” he said.

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