By Tierra Harris, ’22

Junior journalism major Tierra Harris, Top 10 Ways to Become a Better LGBTQ Ally
About the author: Hailing from Avon, Indiana, Tierra Harris is president of the Ball State chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, associate poetry editor of The Broken Plate, a 2019 Tom Keating Writing Competition finalist, and copy editor of The Daily News. (Photo by Bobby Ellis)

Editor’s Note: We asked junior journalism major Tierra Harris to share her personal perspective on how the values of inclusive excellence and diversity of thought — symbolized by Ball State’s Multicultural Center — have influenced her college journey. Her essay follows.

Growing up, I was always surrounded by white people, which means I learned to code switch before I knew what that phrase even meant. Like many other Black students, I didn’t have an outlet. As I transitioned to college, I thought it’d be pretty much the same. A predominantly white institution plus higher education usually means more blatant racism, ignorant comments, and being the only Black kid in class, right? But I was wrong. 

It’s been filled with poetic Black music lectures from Dr. Emily Rutter’s ENG 215 class, endless meetings filled with talented Black artists, and the opportunity to cross paths with those who have come before me. Don’t get me wrong, nothing’s perfect; I still might find myself being the only Black kid in a sea of students, but the only difference is now I know I’m not alone.

If I had to describe my Ball State experience in one word, it would be “change.” And change is often a slow battle of back and forth — sometimes you have to take a few steps back, and sometimes you lunge forward.

Some of my changes hinge on terms like “diversity” and “inclusive excellence.” These are words you hear on campus these days, floating through the hallways, discussed in classrooms, and mapped out in strategic plans.

They may just seem like words, but for me they have a deeper meaning.

Change has filled the rows of Pruis Hall as Dr. Michael Eric Dyson spoke movingly about Dr. King’s legacy during the MLK Speaker Series. Change crowded the bus last Spring en route to Cincinnati’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, where we would be inspired by the struggles for freedom handed down through history. And it’s held my hand as I navigated this campus in positions I never dreamed of being in.

Tierra Harris in front of Ball State "old" Multicultural Center on McKinley Avenue
Her experiences at Ball State showed Harris (shown above at the “old” Multicultural Center) that she had what it took to be a strong leader.

Front and center

During freshman orientation, my friends and I decided to take a walk down on McKinley Avenue to the Multicultural Center. Through the Summer heat, we shared excited visions of what it must be like. Images of School Daze, the 1998 Spike Lee joint about a student experiencing life at a historically Black college — clouded my mind as I crossed the Student Center parking lot. Catching my first glimpse of a tired-looking old house behind a modern, sleek Ball State sign, I stopped in my tracks. Was this it?

Fast-forward to October 19, 2019. I found myself walking past a group gathered in the pits near Noyer. There was a ribbon being cut and then I spotted Bobby Steele, director of the Multicultural Center, wearing a big smile. Curious, I stopped to find out what it was all about.

What was happening was the groundbreaking for a new Multicultural Center. Perched on an easel was a color rendering of this new center.

When it was President Mearns’ turn to speak, he talked about the reason for the new center’s location, in the heart of the campus. It was a reflection of how diversity and inclusive excellence were now front and center at Ball State University.

Ro-Anne Royer Engle and President Mearns unveil the new Multicultural Center in 2019
At Homecoming 2019, ground was broken for the new Multicultural Center, east of Bracken Library. The $4 million facility will open in 2021. President Geoffrey S. Mearns (shown with Ro-Anne Royer Engle, vice president of Student Affairs) said the location at the heart of campus reflects that inclusive excellence “must always be at the center of all that we do.”

Learning that this impressive new Multi (as it’s known on campus) would replace the little white house I had come to know, how could I not feel joy? And yet it was there that so many of my positive experiences had occurred, thanks to the people who I met or got to know there.

People like Matt Housely, who directs the University’s Admissions diversity efforts and its Summer Scholars program for diverse, college-bound students. As a Summer Scholars graduate, I wanted to share what I’d learned with others and decided to apply for a job with the program. But, when Matt asked me a simple question during our interview, I stumbled.

“If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” he asked.

I sat, befuddled. Matt and the others waited in silence for a response.

“Invisibility,” I heard myself blurting out. It sounded as bad to me as it probably did to them.

Matt hired me anyway. And that Summer, I learned I was far from invisible. Having the chance to work with some amazing kids, I discovered I was, in fact, a leader.

Then there’s Aric Fulton. Always offering a challenge to the world around us, he aided in my growth as not just a leader but as someone who takes control of what they can. After crossing paths many times, he shared his story. A senior journalism education major from northwest Indiana, he was striving to get the degree he knows he deserves, with the dream of one day becoming an administrator in the world of education.

Our experiences at the Multi were similar; we both felt the setting wasn’t inviting at first, but adapted our opinions when we learned of the opportunities it offered.

I remember one day, in particular, when Aric and I sat across from each other in the Malcolm X Library on the second floor. Books lined the walls as a tall window showcased a glimpse of bright sunshine. Aric pulled out his laptop, balancing it on his crossed legs as he surveyed a blueprint for the new Multicultural Center on his screen.

“There’s gonna be people who want to be in that space,” he told me. “There’s gonna be people who feel like this is a space for them.”

It reminded me that every brick being laid for this new center was also building me up each and every day.

The nature of change

This past Summer, with some encouragement, I reached out to President Mearns about problems on this campus that concerned me. Together, we found solutions. I joined a student-led organization that’s entire presence is built on speaking out about the long-term effects of racism in our society and finding solutions to everyday problems. I became president of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. I’m now an editor for a nationally-accredited literary magazine.

At the same time, I’m still the same kid who once thought she couldn’t do any of those things. Impostor syndrome tries to creep up on me, but with each and every day, I’m reminded that my success is inevitable.

That’s the nature of change. It’s true, I still sit in majorly white classrooms, instructed by majorly white professors while learning about majorly white events and icons. But I can say that the Multicultural Center, the Black professors I’ve met, the Black students I found unity with, have all aided in my growth and made the biggest positive impact on my college journey.

Although the creation and execution of inclusive excellence has come a long way, it doesn’t mean we’re finished.

—Tierra Harris

As the building nears completion, I am approaching my senior year of college. Somehow, I see myself in those incomplete windows and outlines of doors — still under construction and just hoping to be better than the last. With each and every brick being laid, we continue to progress, no matter what.

Although the creation and execution of inclusive excellence have come a long way, it doesn’t mean we’re finished. And even when students pile inside, it won’t mean everything will finally be fixed, either. Like every story you’ve heard before, it will take time. And for this, I’m willing to wait.

Sometimes I imagine what it’ll be like in ten years. Will Black kids walk into the Multicultural Center and feel like they’re on the set of School Daze? Will they feel safe? I cross my fingers every single time I walk by through the entrances surrounding Ball State’s future.

I hope those kids who look just like me will never have to search for their people. Hopefully, they’ll be waiting right there, at the doors of Ball State and the Multicultural Center.

Construction continues on the new Multicultural Center
Construction continues of the new Multicultural Center

New Center Nears Completion

Construction continued this Fall on the new Multicultural Center. Replacing the current center, the new 10,500-square-foot facility — located east of Bracken Library — will provide services closer to where students live and study, with amenities designed to assist and support all students and to promote inclusive excellence.

The new center replaces the former location: a house southeast of the Student Center that was constructed in 1934 and became the Special Programs House in the early 1970s to serve Ball State’s Black students.