Diversity lounge renamed, renovated

HASSAN JAVED/THE CAMPUS The William C. Jason Diversity Lounge in Brooks Hall has been renovated and was formally renamed on Friday, Feb. 10.

Brooks Hall’s diversity lounge is complete not only with a renovation, but a rededication, honoring an 1888 alum.
The William C. Jason Diversity Lounge was officially opened under its new name on Friday, Feb. 10. A welcome event was held at the Jason Diversity Lounge from 2-4 p.m.
Jason was the first Black man to graduate from Allegheny College and went on to become the longest-serving president of Delaware State University, according to the Allegheny’s website.
“Under his tutelage, the student population at Delaware State went from 20-something to 390,” Director of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access & Social Justice Center Lisa Nicole Smith said. “Delaware State has done him the due diligence of naming a library after him.”
This is not the first time the college has honored Jason. The IDEAS Center has a student position known as a Jason Fellow.
Isaiah Romain, ’24, is a Jason Fellow and believes that his position gives him a responsibility to promote diversity on campus.
“Mr. Jason was known for being very active and helpful across campus during his time, being one of the only Black students at the time,” Romain said. “I believe I have been recognized as a Jason Fellow because promoting interaction and collaboration at Allegheny is something I’ve been passionate about since being a freshman.”
Dedicating the diversity lounge to Jason is a way of encouraging students to make the most of available resources, according to Romain.
“I’ll say that the news of the diversity lounge has me excited, but I also realize that this is just part of laying the foundation,” Romain said. “We have other places that are dedicated to diversity and the college is playing its part by providing more spaces, but it is up to the students to take the next steps and take responsibility for representing themselves. Mr. Jason was very influential during his time and we have the opportunity to also do great things.”
Much like the IDEAS Center, the collegehopes the Jason Diversity Lounge will serve as a space where students feel free to express their perspectives, according to Vice President for Institutional Advancement Matt Stinson.
“The whole point of attending college is to become more educated not only in your academics but also regarding your positioning in the world,” Stinson said. “It’s all about being okay with and learning from perspectives that you may not agree with, and that’s what we want from the diversity lounge.”
Smith added that having spaces dedicated to diversity is especially important in environments like Allegheny.
“Because we have an institution that is predominantly white, it is possible that many students who are present in smaller population groups on campus can feel ways about being their authentic selves,” Smith said. “While the hope is to one day have a campus where everyone can be their authentic selves, places like the IDEAS Center and the diversity lounge are a good place to start.”
ASG Director of Diversity and Inclusion Jaelyn Valentin, ’25, said that although it is important for students to be able to be their authentic selves, it is also important for everyone to be willing to accept others’ perspectives.
“It’s not a situation where anyone can come in and expect to be themselves without a filter and then not be willing to listen to others,” Valentin said. “But it is very necessary for students to have a space where they can feel comfortable and can make it their own space.”
Valentin added that although creating spaces devoted to diversity is a good initiative by the college, there is still a lot to overcome regarding the culture on campus.
“There are institutional problems such as cliques forming and many people choosing to stick to their groups,” Valentin said. “A space dedicated to diversity is great but people have to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable … the most important place where discussions regarding difference should be had are classrooms and in my experience, only some courses have given me the opportunity to do that.”
Valentin hopes to use the Jason Lounge to organize events related to topics such as diversity as she sees it to be a more communal space as compared to the IDEAS Center.
“I’ve already been in contact with the CILC organizations and we’re planning gatherings targeted toward the entire student body … a diversity lounge is a suitable place for such events,” Valentin said. “The IDEAS Center is more so a space where students can be in smaller groups and make use of the staff to ask questions about race, gender, identity, diversity and many other topics.”
While the IDEAS Center is a smaller communal space where students often gather for meetings, events and to complete homework, the diversity lounge has been renovated to cater to a wider range of student needs.
“We’ve completely recarpeted the place, put in comfortable new couches and have even installed two large TVs,” Smith said. “We want students to gather here and do what makes them feel comfortable because it can get difficult to stay in your room all day … we even encourage students to hook up their gaming consoles to the TVs.”
The idea of renovating and renaming the diversity lounge has been on the docket for a while but has been streamlined since Smith arrived in her role last semester, according to Stinson.
Stinson added that Smith approached Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Heather Moore Roberson and him with the intent to bring the idea to fruition. The college approved the idea and to organize the logistics of the renovation. Smith collaborated with various people, including Chief Financial Officer Linda Wetsell and Director of Physical Plant Joseph Michael.
Stinson’s involvement in the project was from a historical perspective.
“While Allegheny wasn’t the first college to have a Black graduate, we were certainly ahead of the curve … if you consider what was happening in the country in 1888 … this is why it’s so important for people to know why we commemorate people like Dr. Jason.”
Stinson said that a lot of historical figures and names are honored around the college and that honoring Jason is a step in the right direction.
“If you walk around campus there are names everywhere, I mean there’s Alden, Brooks, there’s great historical figures everywhere … if you go into the Campus Center there is a whole section outlining prominent female alumni,” Stinson said. “Recognizing diversity in our history, learning from it and celebrating it is very important.”
Right next to the Jason Lounge in Brooks Hall is the Ethel Mae Gillespie Study Room. Gillespie was the first Black woman to graduate from Allegheny in 1915 and went on to become a teacher at Kittrell College in North Carolina.
Apart from serving as a productive student space, the diversity lounge will also be used in other ways.
“One of the first events to be held here will be a Super Bowl party for the members of the CILC organizations,” Smith said.
Executive Director of Economic, Civic and Community Engagement Andy Walker, ‘00, said he envisions the diversity lounge to serve as a community-building and networking space.
“For instance, Dean Roberson’s husband is the chair of Family & Community Christian Association Meadville and they usually meet at the French Creek … since we have an Allegheny connection with the organization, it is a good initiative to link community members and students and the diversity lounge can be the place where they connect,” Walker said. “I also know that students are interested in creating a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at Allegheny and this will be the perfect meeting place for them to connect with members of other chapters.”
Walker added that Dr. Armendia P. Dixon, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund, has reached out to the college to set up a mentorship program through which Allegheny students can mentor local school children.
“These initiatives are why we need a place like the diversity lounge,” Walker said. “It serves as a place where not only Allegheny students can feel comfortable but also where community members can come in and use it as their home base on campus.”
Smith hopes that the Jason Diversity Lounge will help Allegheny students rediscover their belonging in the Meadville community.
“We hope to get more students of diverse backgrounds involved in the community because there’s a large feeling of them not feeling represented in the community,” Smith said. “The diversity lounge will serve as a place of networking where students, alumni and community members can gather and recognize each other’s interests and build on them.”