Emory University officially unveiled the new Belonging and Community Justice Identity Spaces in Cox Hall with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Oct. 21. The five identity spaces, which were previously located in the Alumni Memorial University Center (AMUC), returned in their newly-decorated spaces with a soft opening at the start of the semester. 

The spaces include Centro Latinx, Black Student Union, Center for Women, Asian Student Center and the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Life. Emory First, a space for low-income and first generation students, will officially be added to the identity spaces in Cox Hall by August 2024, according to Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for Belonging, Engagement and Community Kristina Bethea Odejimi.

In his remarks to the crowd of about 50 people at the ribbon cutting, University President Gregory Fenves said he hopes the identity spaces will help Emory students feel accepted on campus.

“I hope that after this little ceremony … you really get to explore this new hub for student belonging for all of our students, for each of our students and who they are, what their identity is, and learning about themselves and learning about others.” Fenves said. “It truly is a place of belonging and of learning.”

Members of Emory administration cut a ribbon to officially open the new identity spaces on Oct. 21. (Holden Vance/Contributing Writer)

Odejimi told the Wheel that she and Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Enku Gelaye decided that Emory First would find its home in Cox Hall while touring the new identity spaces over the summer. 

Emory First intern Terrence Lurry (25C) said that they are still deciding on the design of their space. Students helped design all of the existing identity spaces with over 40 feedback sessions, during which students gave their input on everything from the paint color to furniture. Emory First will hold an event in collaboration with the Barkley Forum on Nov. 8 for students to share their opinions on how the space should be used and what it should look like. Lurry said Emory First will use the feedback given at this event as well as future events to decorate the room.

“It’s really great that we do have a space to use now,” Lurry said. “It will make a lot of big changes for first generation, low-income students.”

Fenves told the crowd on Oct. 21 that he had wanted to upgrade the identity spaces since he first came to Emory three years ago, when he met with Gelaye and took a tour of the AMUC. 

“And what was it? Old carpets with water stains, peeling paint, fluorescent lights, doors that had been banged up and not been repaired for years,” Fenves said. “I remember telling Enku, ‘This is sad. This is how our students are seeing Emory University valuing them.’”

After seeing the disrepair of the AMUC, Fenves said he believed it was essential that Emory start the process of renovating the identity spaces. After deciding on the location of the third floor of Cox Hall, Emory’s Office of Planning, Design and Construction hosted sessions with student ambassadors to design the rooms.

Members of the Emory community make pins during the new identity spaces’ ribbon cutting ceremony. (Holden Vance/Contributing Writer)

In her speech at the ribbon cutting, Gelaye said Cox Hall “has been at the center of cultural action” on campus, hosting parties and other large events. By adding the identity spaces to the building, Gelaye said that the building could become “the heart of campus,” as the spaces help push the Emory community to challenge themselves on issues of community justice. 

“Today marks a new chapter in the history of Emory student experiences — a history that is steeped in community, in courage and advocacy for more than five decades,” Gelaye said.

Odejimi expressed a similar sentiment, telling the crowd that it has been a “joy” to watch students use the new identity spaces this semester.

“These spaces are facilitating connections and opportunities to belong,” Odejimi said. “These spaces are where students will flourish.”

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