Nathan Stephens assumes position as director of BNAACC


Jessica Jutzi

Nathan Stephens became the new director of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center as of January 2017.

By Melissa Wagner, Staff writer

As a first generation college student in 1989, Nathan Stephens had to face unique obstacles. Being the first of the family to go to college was hard, but doing it as a black man was even harder. He yearned for a listening ear, someone to help him with support and guidance.

Now, Stephens is no stranger to the university environment, having fulfilled positions in African American cultural centers at both the University of Missouri at Columbia and Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

This year, he is taking on the position of the director of the University’s Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center.

“I am excited about the opportunity to work with a wide range of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members that make up the Illini family,” Stephens wrote in an email.

Gigi Secuban, director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, has filled the position of interim director at the BNAACC since former Director Rory James left in August 2015.

“Right now, I am looking at the programs that we have done and will evaluate and discuss those with the BNAACC staff and constituents,” Stephens wrote. “Then, after speaking with students, RSOs, faculty, staff, alumni and other stakeholders, the BNAACC staff, our colleagues in OIIR and other allies and supporters, the plan is to mete out some guidance for the future.”

The BNAACC is temporarily located in the former Campus Recreation Outdoor Center at 51 E. Gregory Dr. in Champaign.

In addition to a new director and possible programming changes, the BNAACC will move to a permanent location in the near future. The facility is expected to cost $4.9 million and is slated to open in 2018, Secuban wrote in a press release.

As the new director, Stephens is responsible for creating a more comfortable environment for students amidst the recently tense political climate.

Stephens wrote that he plans to work with his staff, other cultural centers and student organization to have open conversations and dialogue. These events will give people the opportunity to have conversations that inform, support and foster self-reflection and growth.

“It’s important for people to understand that disagreeing about politics or any other topic is one thing,” Stephens wrote. “But when people are doing and saying things that reduces the personhood, humanity and dignity of others, especially groups of people, we have to drawn the line there as a campus.”

The cultural centers have been integral in responding to issues of hate speech on campus and providing support for marginalized students.

“Hopefully as a nation, but definitely as an institution, we have to collectively say that there are certain lines that simply should not be crossed,” Stephens wrote.

Stephens’ experience working in cultural centers and diversity programs has armed him with the resources needed to guide students to success in trying times like these.

“I also see student leaders that are on the cusp of greatness and simply need some encouragement, guidance, support, a listening ear or a challenge to be great because it’s their destiny,” Stephens wrote. “These are the things that inspire me to do this work and to make as much of a difference as I can.”

[email protected]