On Friday, Sept. 6, the first of two days of celebratory events held to officially open the Winston-Salem State University Donald Julian Reaves Student Activities Center, a contingent of local and state luminaries gathered outside the $25 million 95,000-square-foot building for a ribbon cutting ceremony.
WSSU trustees voted to name the three-story center for the school’s current chancellor. University of North Carolina President Thomas Ross, one of several who spoke before the ribbon-cutting, said it was a rare but appropriate choice to dedicate the center for a sitting chancellor.
“It is an unusual circumstance when we name a building after someone who’s still working … but Chancellor Reaves has been an unusually strong leader for this institution, and he has been so in difficult times,” said Ross, who described the center as a place to “work on your mind and your body in close proximity.”
Part study hall, recreation center and dining facility, the center, financed through the university’s foundation, was designed with today’s students in mind.
WSSU Student Government Association President Bryant Bell said surveys were distributed campus-wide to gather students’ input on the design and features of the center. Students chose the location of the center’s gymnasium, which features two basketball courts and an elevated walkway, and suggested eateries for the food court, which includes a Subway and Popeyes.
“Once we finally got the opportunity to see our ideas and our dreams come to fruition, to reality, we were very satisfied with the result,” Bell, a senior, said.
The center also features exercise facilities, locker rooms and game rooms. Officials hope to add a barbershop/beauty salon. WSSU’s division of Student Affairs and the Student Government Association office are also housed inside the new center.
“The most important people right now, at this moment, are the students,” former State Rep. Larry Womble, a WSSU alumnus, said before the ribbon cutting. “This building would be for naught, if we didn’t do it for the students.”
Akinyele Cameron-Kamau, a senior majoring in art, unveiled her 36×48 painting of Reaves at the Sept. 16 ceremony. The piece will hang in the center. She said the facility, which has been in use since students returned to campus in August, has become a popular gathering place for students.
“Students who have been here have been happy about what they have offered to them as far as the space, as far as the athletics-type areas, as far as having someplace to come,” said Cameron-Kamau, who is also president of the Campus Life and Marketing Committee.
Reaves said that having the center named in his honor was an odd and humbling moment that will rank among the most cherished of his life. When he assumed the chancellorship on Aug. 16, 2007, he vowed to leave the university better than he found it. One of his first major changes was raising the school’s academic admission standards.
[pullquote]“I did have a vision for this university. I knew where it needed to go, I knew where it could go, and I believed when I arrived here, I could lead it there,”[/pullquote] [pullquote]“I understood that the world was changing, and we needed to change with it to ensure our students were competitive in this new environment.”[/pullquote]
His vast improvement hit a major snag two years into his leadership. The economic downturn caused public universities’ funding to be severely slashed.
“And then in the midst of rolling out all the great ideas, we encounter the worst recessionary period since The Great Depression,” Reaves said. “The stark reality of the situation was that we had to abandon our plans or we had to learn to do more with less.”
He was forced to make some tough – and controversial – decisions, including scrapping WSSU’s expensive transition to Division I athletics. The university has since thrived in Division II, with many of its teams clinching CIAA championships for the past several years.
The campus is continuing to grow. A Student Success Center and new dorms are under construction, and the raising of a parking deck is in the works. The school is also set to finalize its purchase of Bowman Gray Stadium from the City of Winston-Salem.
A number of other activities were held to mark the center’s opening, including a step show, drum line parade and vendors’ fair.
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