By Teresia Sami ’23 

My first impression of Portlock Black Cultural Center is that it encapsulates a rich history, further cementing the importance of the community open house and rededication held last fall during Rivalry Weekend. It truly is the culmination of ALL people of color who have studied and taught at Lafayette College, and the impact they have made. 

When I spoke with Jose Bencosme Peña ’24, a resident of Portlock, last fall, he explained that his first impression when he walked into the house was related to aesthetics. “The look and feel of the house surpassed my expectations, and I was very impressed,” he says. With his favorite space being the second-floor library, he believes the layout of the house highlights the many resources available to students including a plethora of books, great for in-house discussions.

This past fall, alumni gathered at Portlock for Hispanic Heritage Month to tour and share their experiences about life post-graduation and making it in the corporate world. Peña and his housemates intend to ensure that all events will be able to be coordinated through the formal streamlined platform, EMS. Even as they work with the Office of Intercultural Development on this, students are welcome to host their events at the house. The hope, according to Peña, is to have more discussion-based events this semester for people to get to know each other better and create a close-knit community.

Peña was certain that living in Portlock Black Cultural Center was something he wanted to be part of during his college experience. He feels the Portlock Center is his home and would love for other students to feel like the center is a place where they can go while they are on campus. Peña believes Portlock is a space where they can make pupusas, laugh, and have conversations together.

Portlock Black Cultural Center second floor library.

Marcus Alston ’24, also a resident of this house, echoes his housemate’s sentiments on his first thoughts when he walked into Portlock. “Wow, this space was built for us and with us in mind,” he says. His favorite space is the upstairs library that is littered with insightful books and a discussion space, and makes for a great study spot.

Alston also reinforces the importance of this space catering to more than just one student group on campus by mentioning the diverse events they are now able to host in the house.

For instance, last semester they were able to host sip-and-paint events with ABC and discussions for the NIA Sisterhood, both POC student groups on campus.

“Although there are really great events happening on campus, Portlock Center can now serve as a uniting space for all these groups to meet and align their programs,” Alston says.

Both Alston and Peña agree the basement space is very useful for students to hold get-togethers while also being mindful of residents. It is used for parties over the weekend and is open to most students during the daytime by using fobs. Peña reiterates that the Portlock Center is different from other buildings because it offers the comfort of a change of scenery and/or environment for students at their will.

Current Portlock residents are really proud to be part of the first cohort of students to live in a space where history is not just being made but can be traced back to the first Lafayette College students of color. With the promise of almost always seeing a familiar face whenever you stop by Portlock, this center is truly a breath of fresh air for many current and future students alike.