Creating a Sense of Belonging for Black Students @ PSU


Author: Shanice Clarke

The Pan-African Commons officially opened at Portland State University in November 2016, after the voices of the greater Black community on campus brought demands to university leaders. Now, the Pan-African Commons, located in Smith Memorial Student Union- Suite 236, is a student-centered space where students come to study, seek support and resources, community, and a series of programs and events. This year, we engaged in critical dialogue and cultivated community space for students and staff to identify and vote on a name and mission for our new cultural center. Students vocalized the need for a space where they belonged, thrived, and felt a sense of connection between all folks with an indigenous connection to the continent of Africa.

The Pan-African Commons cultivates cultural, personal, academic, and professional development opportunities through programming and resources that foster empowerment, enrichment, and principled solidarity that advocates liberation among peoples of the African diaspora.

Recent features that have been added to the Pan-African Commons include a library and family-friendly area. Our library, with heavy influences from other staff and students, includes works from Melissa Harris Perry, Chimamanda Adichie-Ngozi, Booker T. Washington, Janet Mock, Sapphire, and more. Our family friendly space includes books and toys for varying age groups, so student parents, visitors, or baby-sitters can still visit without being worried about themselves or others needing to focus. Although, a game of dominoes have proven to be an all-age affair in the Pan-African Commons.

Our Pan-African Commons community also wants you to know our music is always poppin. From 80s R&B hits, current hip-hop and R&B, afrobeats, dancehall, funk- we have you covered!

We are always looking for students to get involved. Here are a few ways:

  • Visit us, or attend an event. You can always stay in the loop by checking our calendar, or visiting us on Facebook. In honor of Pride Month, we are hosting a multi-office collaboration for the Black femme poet Vita Cleveland on May 2nd, 4:00 p.m. in the Pan-African Commons (SMSU 236).
  • Join a Program Oversight Committee. The Pan-African Commons has three committees: Sankofa: Heritage and Traditional Programs, The Irie Project: Community-Care, Wellness, and Upward Mobility Programs, and Arts Programs. Email Shanice Clarke at with your interest or questions about any of our committees.
  • Join the Pan-African Commons Programming Team, or work as a receptionist in the Cultural Resource Centers unit. The Pan-African Commons has a team of students who coordinate, plan, and lead events, and we are hiring for the 2017-18 school year. In addition, we are hiring a student leader to coordinate strategic behind the scenes efforts with the leadership of the Pan-African Commons. Find all applications here.

Whether you find yourself in a dilemma in navigating the institutional environment, want to give your opinion on a Beyonce vs. Michael Jackson debate, or need a place to study and seek community with other Pan-African students- the Pan-African Commons is the place to be!